Exclusion of independent science voices threatens UK

12 March 2010

The Government is ill-advised to seek budget advice only from science organisations it funds, says the Royal Society of Chemistry.

In seeking advice on science spending for the next three years, the Government must listen to independent bodies as well as those it funds directly, says the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).

The RSC and the Institute of Physics have been led to believe that they will be excluded from initial consultations on how the science budget should be spent.

Instead, according to reports, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is inviting views only from science organisations to which the Government gives funding.

The bodies from which formal advice will be sought include the Royal Society (RS), half of whose funding comes from the Government; others, such as the British Academy and the Council for Science and Technology also get Government financial support.

"This exclusion of independent science voices is unhealthy and risks sycophancy," says RSC chief executive Richard Pike. "If you are getting large amounts of money you are more likely or tempted to pull your punches.

"In all aspects of life we should be open to 360 degree advice. Critical friends like the RSC can be just as helpful, even more helpful, as uncritical friends in the long run.

"BIS will not be open to candid argument and guidance if it excludes from the initial consultation those bodies that have a real interest in Britain's science future but no financial dependence on Government, as is the case with the Royal Society of Chemistry."

Dr Pike added: "The extreme example of the Government surrounding itself by unchallenging quangos and tame committees is in education. These led to a new GCSE science curriculum being introduced in 2006, which was first examined in 2008, revealing major deficiencies in content and rigour. This included science papers with no underlying mathematics, and science questions with no science.

"The damning DCFS-funded report on those exams has had such limited circulation within Government that when its findings were quoted in the Commons on 14 January this year an education minister unwittingly dismissed it as Opposition rhetoric!"

The RSC has been critical of some of the Government's actions or inactions, having campaigned to prevent 600 million science research cuts announced in December, and having pressed for improved educational standards and higher funding per student for laboratory-based university subjects such as chemistry and physics.

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