Science and growth: your ideas please!

With a little trepidation I have agreed to sit on the panel for next week’s Science Question Time, run by the Biochemical Society and the Campaign for Science and Engineering. It will be at the Institute of Physics on Monday 18th.

The blurb goes:

Since David Willetts’ first speech as Science Minister, the coalition has been pushing ‘science for growth’.

But can the government pick winners? Are their policies joined-up enough to deliver? Is the state committing enough to long-term investment, or is too much store being set on narrowly defined versions of ‘impact’? Are businesses really on board?

Perhaps we need to think in different terms entirely – should we be looking to technology for sustainability, rather than growth? Is an unrelenting focus on growth a bit irresponsible?

I was pleased to be suggested and asked for the panel and think that some of the stuff I have been working and blogging on recently are relevant to the discussion. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing the discussion and meeting the panel and audience. But I sadly don’t have the whole of history (not even the whole of British history of science!) at my fingertips.

I thought, therefore, that ahead of Monday’s discussion I would ask any historians of science reading this if they have any useful ideas, case studies, hints or readings they can share with me relating to the theme. If you do, please comment here, or feel free to email me at rebekah [dot] higgitt [a] gmail [dot] com.

Thanking you in advance!


3 thoughts on “Science and growth: your ideas please!

  1. A country which relies on growth for prosperity is doomed. Sustainability should be the goal.

    Anything with short-term impact should be funded by industry or whomever else is interested in said impact. Government should fund science which does not have any obvious short-term impact.

    • “Government should fund science which does not have any obvious short-term impact”. Nice idea, but given that funding is necessarily limited, how should we prioritise? Is there an argument that public money should be given to things with (clear?) public benefit? And things that benefit the public might not at all be things that would benefit industry interested in profit.

      Which brings us back to the unsustainability of a focus on growth, perhaps?

      • There is certainly a need to prioritise. In practice, however, this usually leads to “impact”, “short-term benefit” etc. Yes, public funding should benefit the public, but not necessarily in the short term.

        Maybe the opposite is the best approach: if someone says “this should be funded because it will have a short-term impact on such and such”, then whoever benefits from such and such should fund it. In particular, applied research which will lead to jobs in industry, profits for companies etc should be funded by said companies. Certainly not everything should be funded, but denying funding because there is no clear short-term impact is not a valid argument. If anything, this should be publicly funded since there are few other sources.

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