What would we have to do without, if we had to do without science? iPads. iPods. Computers. Well, I could live without those, maybe. Mobile phones. Maybe those, too. Phones of any kind? Well, it would be quieter round here.
Food in plenty at all times of year? Hmmmm. Sure, I could start bottling and growing and storing, if I had the time. Or the space. Which I don't.
Electricity? Sure, I could use candles. Gas? Maybe, I could get the minor Croxii to fart in a bottle. Oil? Perhaps. If I could do without a car, and work at home, because there wouldn't be any trains. But - hang on a sec - I wouldn't have a computer. Or even a pen and paper. Memo to self: should start growing my own papyrus and grinding my own ink.
Medicine? Antibiotics? Well, if you want to play roulette with the reaper. Me? I'd have died without them, in childhood, from measles, pneumonia, any number of things.
Pretty much everything, actually.
Without science, we'd go back five or six hundred years, to a time before the Enlightenment, when the much smaller number of people who then existed lived a subsistence lifestyle, and were plagued by famine, pestilence and war. Quite a lot of people live like that today - in countries that do not have science. (Aside - I think the Catholic Church wishes we were still there).
The government is proposing to cut science drastically. Now, I'm a Tory, bluer than blue, through and through. I think the country has to endure cuts, and drastic ones, to make up for the profligacy of the last one - which supported science, but on borrowed money. Science, too, could probably absorb its share. When Mrs Thatcher cut science in the early 1980s, she did the right thing - there was a lot of dead wood to remove. That dead wood has now long gone, and British science is a lean mean machine that punches well above its weight in the world.
If science is to be cut, it must be cut with extreme care, for one never knows whence the next discovery will come, from whom, or how. You can be sure, though, that it will come from a research program designed to look for something completely different. Expect the unexpected. And, as someone once said, prediction is very difficult - especially about the future.
What, then, is to be done? For a start you can do more than read my ramblings. A lot more. At the very least, join the Science is Vital Facebook Group. Take to the streets, lobby your MP. Scientists are not prepared to take this lying down. As my colleague Dr J. R. of Canada Water puts it, No More Dr Nice Guy.
4 weeks ago