And now, for those of you who care about such things, what follows is the talk I intended to do. Enjoy (or not, up to you).
Hello. Although it's incredible to see so many scientists and science supporters here today, it does make me worry, seeing as if a major disaster were to strike this location right now, it would cause a significant drop in the national average IQ. Amongst other things, obviously. It would probably be a lot quieter on twitter, for starters. There's the treasury as well, of course but let's not worry about that. It's not like there's anything in there these days.
Some of you may be wondering who am I to be stood here, amongst all the scientific illuminati. And I use the word illuminati as a joke, before any Dan Brown fans get too excited. Dan Brown isn't even a real person anyway, he's a spambot that got wildly out of control.
But what relevance do I, someone generally unknown, have to this campaign, exactly? Well, I’m not the head of a research group, an influential journalist or anything like that. I’m a doctor of Neuroscience, but I haven’t had a job for over a year now. Ergo, I’m an unemployed scientist. I try to scrape some extra cash together on the stand-up comedy circuit, and you know how desperate I am when comedy is seen as my fall-back option. So consider me a warning; if these cuts aren’t opposed here and now, you could all end up like me! And nobody wants that. This isn’t even a real lab coat; I’m stood here wearing this while my wife is at home wondering what happened to the bedroom curtains.
I’m not blaming my own situation on lack of funding. There are many reasons for me not finding work, chief among them being the fact that I did say I was a doctor of Neuroscience, but I’m not a particularly good one. But I know many people, highly qualified peers of mine who are brilliant and enthusiastic scientists, who are also struggling to find work, and to me that isn't right. If nothing else it's a waste of time and resources. All that training, all that potential, not being exploited, and that doesn't make economic sense to me. Say what you will about the government, but I sincerely doubt they'd voluntarily spend billions on something they had no intention of using. Apart from the trident missiles of course. Why do we need new ones, spray them a different colour etc., who's going to call our bluff?
I personally don't think anyone in the scientific community expected us to completely avoid being affected by the cuts; it's not like we're the banking industry. But I think we all hoped that any cuts made would be rational and well thought out, in order to minimise disruption. Not, as seems to be the case, Vince Cable pulling random numbers out of... well, an orifice of your choice, really. But maybe even that was naive? It might be just me, but I've detected a certain societal resentment of science and scientists. It might just be a resentment towards me, admittedly, but I'm often encountering hostility when I tell people what I do. And they've asked me, mind you. "What do you do?" "I'm a Neuroscientist", "OH! Think you're clever do you?" ".......YES! You sort of have to be in order to get to be one". Does anyone else get this sort of treatment? "I'm an Olympic sprinter" "OH! Think you're a fast runner, do you?" And so on.
Returning to the issue, you could say there is a certain logic in the argument that, in order to save money, we should only fund quality research. But that argument, that only quality should receive funding, is a bit hard to take from a government that recently declared that Homeopathy should be funded on the NHS because, apparently, choice is crucial.
I'm sure there are many critics who would say we're whinging, that we all have to face cuts and we shouldn't be exempt just because we're scientists. And maybe not every single bit of scientific research is absolutely vital to the UK's reputation and economy. I'm sure we'd concede that.
But if the technique of funding only quality is applied to science, the arguments justifying it mean it should be surely be applied to all other fields too. Transport: Only rail services that provide a reliable service should receive government funding; a saving of about 100% there. Politics? Maybe only those ministers that can prove they have a positive effect on their constituencies should receive pay? In fact, if quality is so important, maybe these sorts of decision should only be made by political parties that can obtain enough votes to form a majority government on their own? Banking even, surely only quality banks should receive public funds? I'm no economist, but it seems pretty easy to spot which banks are the quality ones; they're the ones that don't need public funding in order to keep being banks!
Science is also commanded to do more with less, effectively violating the laws of conservation of mass. But then, it seems the government is exempt from the laws of conservation of mass. They made nearly a trillion pounds disappear without a trace. Lord knows where it's gone, hopefully the Large Hadron Collider will find it in a few months. Unless they do something stupid like, I don't know, cut the funding.
I've been quite flippant in my brief time up here. That was kind of the point of me being here, if we're honest. But the point about the damage these science cuts could cause, which the other speakers have made far more eloquently than I ever could, remains very valid. But I'll leave you with this
A lot of people have cited the argument that other world leaders are pledging to increase scientific and research funding in response to the economic crisis. Now, I'll believe that when I see it, although far be it for me to not instinctively take politicians at their word. But I remember seeing the Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, on TV a few months back, when first introducing the cuts, saying that he wants these cuts to be sustainable. Which I think is PR speak for "The banks have your money, and I don't see why they should have to return it". But this phrase worried me, because, as anyone with any medical or biology experience could tell you, a sustained cut, a cut that doesn't end, those can be fatal. Especially if made to a vital area of the body. Like science.
And on that semi-pithy observation, I'm off to Trafalgar Square to raise enough money to get home. Those Big Issues won't sell themselves.
E-mail: humourology (at) live.co.uk