Royal Society lacks rigor in 20% cuts hypothesis

The New Scientist reports that the Royal Society believes that a “20 per cent cuts to British science means ‘game over’”. (Hattip BishopHill)

In the article, some of the scientists point to the need for innovation to promote the high-tech industries on which our recovery depends. I quite agree. However, I would profoundly disagree that government-funded research science is the best way to achieve this. Firstly, because government-funded research is notoriously bad at producing the job-creating outputs. In fact, the public sector tends to specialise in pure research, with only distant business opportunities. Second, is that government-funded research tends to be long-term. Most politicians would agree that currently we need the new jobs in the next few months, not a decade or more down the line.

As an aside, the idea that a 20% cut “would cause irreversible destruction” is a hypothesis that should be expounded in a more rigorous & scientific manner, with empirical evidence to back this up. I believe that it is analogous to the notion of tipping-points in climate science, so the Royal Society would do well to exchange notes with the folks at the Climate Research Unit at UEA. In trying to model their separate issues they will find that positing of such turning points relies on disregarding the real-world background “noise”. Such “noise” renders the turning points both unpredictable and highly unlikely.

My counter-argument is that, historically, Britain has been very good at the creative elements of pure science and invention. We are not so good at turning that into the reliable world-beating products that create the jobs. We are the country of Newton, Marconi, Whittle and Turing. We are not the country of Apple, Toyota, Nokia, Siemens or BMW.

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