Supplementary submission from the Geological
Society of London
PUTTING SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING AT THE HEART
OF GOVERNMENT POLICY
"Has the time come for the UKas part
of a clear economic strategyto make choices about the balance
of investment in science and innovation to favour those areas
in which the UK has clear competitive advantage?"
The Geological Society of London is pleased
to have the opportunity to submit a follow-up response to this
We respond in particular to question 2.
"Whether such a policy is desirable or necessary"
We believe that:
Investment in science should be long
term, at a planned sustained level rather than intermittent or
subject to wide fluctuation.
School science education, further and
higher education and applied, policy-driven and fundamental/basic
research are all essential elements of the national innovation
system. All these areas require effective funding, and one cannot
be funded at the expense of another, as a necessary (though not
a sufficient) condition for innovation and wealth creation.
It is not always possible, nor desirable,
to consider "science" as composed of discrete individual
research areas without overlap.
In light of the above points, it is not viable
to seek to boost the economy by investing in specific areas of
science only. Nor is it possible to look at UK science investment
in isolation, but as part of a mixture of public and private investment
across the entire Budget. If science is genuinely to be put at
the heart of Government and Government policy, it should not be
necessary to make a choice of one area of science over another,
but to have a clear economic strategy, of which science is one
If anything, we would argue that what is needed
is not investment in favour of those areas in which the UK has
clear competitive advantage, but the oppositefor different
areas of science to view one another as potential collaborators
rather than competitors. It is becoming evident that many of the
most challenging problems facing the global community in this
century cannot, because of complexity and magnitude, be solved
by any one single research discipline but only by a suite of them
extending, in many cases, across the realms of natural, social
and economic-political sciences. There are already signs that,
in some areas, the traditional late 19th and 20th century barriers
between scientific disciplines are being breached as forcing by
societal relevance makes collaboration between disciplines essential
and increasingly illuminating.
To take one example, in 2010 the Geological
Society is organising a two-day symposium that will bring together
geologists and ecologists to see how past global warming events
and ecology can inform present-day ecologists concerned about
current and forthcoming climate change. There are many past examples
of the benefits of such collaboration. British physicists at CERN
came up with the World Wide Web, and British mathematicians at
the National Physical Laboratory came up with package switching
that enables the internet to work with large files such as video,
and enables large mobile phone traffic. It is unlikely that such
outcomes could have been predicted, and such advantageous collaborations
would be lost by employing such a strategy.
An Investment policy on the part of responsible
governments that facilitates continued growth of this trend in
solving the `big questions' now faced by the human community,
will help bring science and engineering closer to the heart of
government as well as yielding manifold benefits from local to