Celebrity science UK

Francis Sedgemore, Friday 28 December 2012 at 0:27 UTC

Politicians ‘picking winners’ is the antithesis of the science culture that has long had Britain punching above its weight within the international research community. Anyone with sense knows that doing away with the Haldane Principle is foolish, yet the new funding regime appears to be bedding in nicely, with government throwing money at graphene science because it is politically sexy, and university and industry PRs have hyped it to high heaven. Graphene is but one of a number of novel nanomaterials of interest for future electronics and mechanical engineering.

Then there is the special visa scheme designed to bring “1,000 top scientists and artists” to the UK, but which has so far attracted only a trickle of applicants, with just five percent of the allocated visas awarded. There was never any problem in poaching top-flight professors from overseas given flexible hiring arrangements and the availability of attractive benefits packages.

Science is for the most part done by anonymous junior and mid-career researchers, not celebrity boffins, and the former get no special treatment. What use leaders if there are too few doers?

Should we now expect to see Simon Cowell retained by government to devise TV competitions in which scientists and engineers flaunt their pet projects in the hope of securing a pot of money in disproportion to the social and economic value of their work? I can see it coming.