David Willetts is our new science minister. Apparently he thinks the best way to drive the scientific innovation that will be a leading cause of the economic recovery, when it comes, is to voluntarily step down from being world leaders in blue-sky research and instead just copy everyone else. He is wrong.
The Government’s own evidence shows that cutting funding in blue sky research is a false economy and does more harm than good to a recovery. You’d hope that, as science minister, he would understand about the importance of basing your decisions on the evidence. Seemingly not.
The problem, as always, is that blue-sky research tends to operate at some considerable distance from the industries and businesses that are seen to produce the cold, hard cash. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t produce a considerable return on any investment in it*, just that the connection is sometimes hard to see.
While it is true that we must all tighten our belts and make cuts, and that the times ahead are likely to be difficult ones, it seems like a no-brainer to me that we should preferentially avoid cutting things that will get us out of this mess faster.
Is it too much to ask that we have a minister capable of understanding the fundamental tennets of the science he is responsible for, and that, just because early-stage research doesn’t produce a product you can hold in your hand, it still punches far about its weight economically? Unfortunately, the early evidence suggests that it is.
In order to reduce my blood pressure, I took this picture of some pretty blue sky:
Ahhhhhhhh, that’s better.
*according to the science and technology select committee report, that return is a very impressive 25% (approximately)