Friday, 24 September 2010

The Science Is Vital campaign: Email(s?) to my MP

For those of you who don't know, there is a very real danger of the coalition government of the UK severely cutting science funding. Us in the science community aren't too keen on this happening, for reasons far too obvious to go into here. But there are many people who want to do something about it (check out the link for a full background as to why Science is as important as we say it is)

If you care in any way at all about the economy and international standing of the UK, please sign the petition. Even if you're not British. Actually, especially if you're not British; the argument that the cuts will affect the UK's international reputation will be strengthened if international people say 'Yeah, that will actually happen'.

As with most campaigns like this, just adding you (electronic) signature to a document is the bare minimum you can do. We are also encouraged to write to our MPs. So I will.

Thing is, do I send a sensible, rationally argued missive in an earnest attempt to get my MP to take the issue seriously and act upon it? Or do I send one of my usual satirical, flippant letters which is more indicative of my 'style', is more likely to get noticed and will provide me with some brief amusement, but will probably be disregarded as gibberish and may in fact be detrimental to the campaign.

So, here are the two options.

Option 1: An e-mail to Alun Michael MP, from Dean Burnett (Doctor of Neuroscience and concerned member of the scientific community)

“Dear Alun Michael

I am one of your constituents. I would like you to sign EDM 767, the Science is Vital petition, and attend a lobby in Parliament on 12 October (15.30, Committee Room 10).

The evidence is clear that investing in research brings a range of economic and social benefits, and that severe cuts at the very moment that our competitor nations are investing more could jeopardize the future of UK science:

Although every member of the science community understands that,, given the current financial situation and the national deficit, potentially severe cuts are going to be unavoidable. However, as much of the economy of this country is dependent on world-class research and the resultant innovations from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, any short-term gains made by cutting science funding will undoubtedly be severely offset by the loss of the research and revenue that would have been made available had the cuts not occurred. In short, cuts will harm the economy and encourage the best scientific minds in the UK to seek opportunities abroad, particularly as many other countries are actually increasing scientific investment in response to the economic challenges currently being faced.

Given the nature of scientific research, any cuts made to research currently in progress would effectively nullify the investment already made into the research areas being cut, so it could easily be argued that the cuts made to scientific spending will actually waste money, rather than save it.

And although it is difficult to quantify in a financial sense, it cannot be denied that cuts will hurt world-class research, not eliminate waste, and damage the UK’s reputation as a leading home for research excellence. This is a particularly relevant issue for the University of Wales (UoW). As someone who has for many years been (and still is) involved with efforts aimed at raising the reputation of the UoW, I am very much aware of the efforts that have gone into the UoW earning a reputation as an internationally recognised centre of learning and research excellence across many areas and departments, attracting much attention and investment. As an MP for Wales, I would hope you would appreciate how damaging science cuts could prove to the Welsh economy in particular.

The Science is Vital [] coalition, along with the Campaign for Science and Engineering [], are calling upon the Government to set out a supportive strategy, including public investment goals above or at least in step with economic growth. Without such investment and commitment the UK risks its international reputation, its market share of high-tech manufacturing and services, the ability to respond to urgent and long-term national scientific challenges, and the economic recovery.

I have signed the petition at I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,
Dr Dean Burnett


Option 2: An e-mail to Alun Michael MP, from Dean Burnett (Unemployed Neuroscientist, aspiring but generally crap comedian, writer of weirdly popular-but-pointless ‘satirical’ science blog,

Dear Alun Michael

All right Al, how’s things? Dean here, remember me? I interviewed you that time when you came to my school during your campaign to be the first minister of the Welsh Assembly. Actually, I think it had just been established, so you were campaigning to be the first first minister. Would that be the first [squared] minister? Although first = 1, and 1 x 1 is still one, so the first minister and first [squared] minister would logically be the same thing, so probably not worth differentiating. Presumably, that’s why you didn’t.

Sorry, tell a lie, it was Rhodri Morgan who came to my school campaigning. We never saw you. What happened between you and Rhodri anyway? I don't really follow politics normally.

So we’ve never met in person, but you may have seen me. I live very close to the Welsh assembly, so if you’re in there often you’ve probably seen me walking past. Although I should point out that there’s another guy around here who looks and dresses exactly like me, so if you’ve seen someone giving you the middle finger and/or ‘wanker’ gesture while passing, it’s definitely the other guy.

I’m writing to you to see if you’d be willing to speak out against the science cuts proposed (or more accurately, ‘hinted at’) by Vince Cable and the coalition government. There are many reasons for this, some of which I will go into now.

Firstly, Cable argues that only ‘quality’ research should be funded. However, we in the scientific community (of which I am still a member, but probably because they haven’t got round to kicking me out yet), we question Vince’s credentials in judging what defines ‘quality’ research. He’s obviously a clever man/back-stabbing Tory loving git (delete as appropriate), and I’ll be the first to admit that there definitely are a number of scientists who don’t really engage in worthwhile or decent quality research. These can be easily spotted as they tend to be rather self- promotional, are usually seen on Big Brother or other tacky media formats as ‘experts’ on mundane or unrelated issues, or take bastard months to mark my I mean a typical postgraduates PhD thesis corrections.

However, the whole concept of funding only quality research is logically questionable. Research projects don’t even know if the thing their researching even works or is real (depending on the field), let alone what the economic or social benefits are. Why not just cut any research projects that don’t include an assessment of all the unforeseen circumstances they’ll encounter while you’re at it?

However, given your past clashes with members of the scientific community, maybe you agree that the cuts are a good and necessary thing? Well, fair enough if you think that, it’s your view and you’re entitled to it. I would only ask that you consider the implications of this ‘only fund things of demonstrably high quality’ approach. Who’s to say it’ll end with the science community? Presumably, other areas will be given the same treatment?

What if the political system itself gets the ‘quality’ axe? Exactly how useful is, oh, let’s say, the Welsh Assembly? Would you be ok to scrap that? No doubt it would affect you and your position, but how would you justify its continued existence? Bear in mind I live nearby, and can see for myself that most of the time it just sits there empty like an elaborate inverted mushroom, occasionally getting everyone together to approve of such vitally important things as golf tournaments.

And what about banks? Surely public funds should only be invested in banks that are of acceptable quality? I’m no financial expert, but I would dare to suggest the way to recognise a poor quality bank is that IT NEEDS PUBLIC FUNDS IN ORDER TO CARRY ON BEING A BANK! But like I say, that’s just my take on things.

But please, if you could, will you join the science community (and help mend some bridges) in opposing the suggested cuts. Even if you don’t feel particularly inclined to supporting the science community, it’s a chance to put the boot in to the Tories isn’t it? Sometimes we do things we don’t want to in order to gain the advantage, e.g. form a coalition government with rivals against the currently ruling party. I myself voluntarily did a comedy fundraiser in support of the (successful) campaign of a local Labour candidate before the election. I was very popular on the night as well (really, I was, surprised me). I didn’t want to do it, I’m not particularly enamoured with modern Labour policies, but I did it.

She got her funds and a successful campaign, I got to meet and perform with Andy Parsons (who’s a lot taller than he looks on the telly, which is weird as it’s usually the other way round with famous people I’ve met). So technically, the Cardiff Labour party owes me a favour, so I’m calling it in. e a mate Al, sign EDM 767.

It’s not like you’ve got much else to do these days, is it?

Love and kisses

Dean Burnett (PhD)"

So, which one should I use? Answers via any communication medium I'm contactable via.

Email: humourology (at)

Twitter: 'garwboy


Liam Bradey said...

Definitely the first one, as I think it will lend more gravitas to the campaign. Second had me in stitches though. Excellent.

Liam Bradey said...

Also, (and yes, it has taken me this long to realise) your blog is called Science Digestive, yet quite clearly in the heading it is a picture of a cookie. Perhaps a satirical comment on the state of science funding? How you yearn for glorious digestives, but are instead forced to survive on sub-par cookies?

Dean Burnett, Neuroscientist said...

The header is something that was designed for me by generous fan who was disgusted by my old home-made logo. And I've yet to come across any biscuit pricing systems which puts cookies below digestives.

Liam Bradey said...

True, I was being facetious to make a point. Cookies are clearly the king of biscuits. Again, I fear I take your excellent blog posts and drag them kicking and screaming from the topic at hand. Especially as serious a topic as this. By the way, Topic's are awesome. I'm thinking of starting a blog entitled Digestive Science, where I talk about biscuits, and go off on a tangent about science, but then some may be put off the title, inferring it is about gastrointestinal juices and the like. Definitely less tasty. Biscuits!

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