Rocket Eddy (rocketeddy) wrote,
Rocket Eddy

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Science is Vital, not Useless

Last week, a large body of scientists held a protest in London against the proposed cuts to the UK science budget. Two of them were interviewed by the BBC, which you can see here. (not sure I can embed it directly, sorry!)

There were two things the BBC reporter said that particularly struck me when I watched it.

"Even a cursory search of the internet shows up journals and articles talking about why do Woodpeckers get headaches...that is useless research, surely?"
I'm not familiar with that research directly, but I am familiar with the media's attacks on it. It's easy to dismiss something you don't understand as useless. But the point of science is to discover things we don't know, or to improve our understanding of something. In the case of headaches (in humans), we actually know very little about them, so if researching woodpeckers was to unveil something fundamental about their nature which then allowed us to develop e.g. a drug to mitigate or ease migraines .. well, would that still be counted as "waste"? It's no longer useless, but it only becomes clear what the use is AFTER the research is done and the application is found. This is the key point with science, we cannot always justify "blue skies" research in advance, because we simply have no way to predict what the results will be useful for. Nobody knew what use electricity would be, the majority of people thought computers were a waste of money, and few if anybody realised the true potential of the internet.

"In the last two weeks, we've seen a hattrick of Nobel Prizes going to UK based scientists. If we're in such good health, surely we can actually afford these cuts?"
Wow. Just... wow. I'm not really sure where to start with such an insane question. The UK certainly is doing very well in terms of the quality of its science output for the money that gets put into it, but has the UK sense of self-worth truly sunk so low as to believe that if we're doing well, we should stop doing what we're doing until we're doing badly? Should our olympic athletes, upon finding themselves winning a race, stop trying so hard and slow down? I'm a little disappointed that Dr Blakemore didn't take the opportunity to point out that the "UK based scientists" that won those prizes are exactly the demographic who are likely to leave the UK as a result of the cuts.
Tags: politics, science, uk

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