Spending Review 2010 - HC 618Written evidence submitted by Professor George Lees (SR 12)

1. Background and Context of my Evidence

1.1 No need for Spending cuts in Multi-Disciplinary research or in the Arts and Humanities. We have the best healthcare system in the world but are about to engage in a free-market experiment akin to the one the banking sector pursued recently based on flawed ideology (which cost the world an estimated $11,900 billion pounds up to 2009). The NHS costs approximately £102 billion pounds/annum but we (the world) had already spent $3000 billion in armed responses in Iraq and Afghanistan up to 2009. In stark contrast, The total Wellcome trust commitment to charitable research funding for 2010 was around £0.68 billion and UK government funding on R&D was around 12 billion Euros (at least back in 2007 before we entered the austerity environs): http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-32-10-225/EN/KS-32-10-225-EN.PDF). Scientists who find themselves in a reductionist funding rut should try and find the time to look out from their narrow field at a broader horizon and visit the web site of Professor Chomsky http://www.chomsky.info/ (and hit the search terms war criminals) to impress upon our political leaders how they urgently need to objectively look, with an International and Historical perspective, at the costs and likely reputational outcomes of current policy. With this easy to obtain perspective, I have no doubt that policy change will quickly emerge and Britain’s science, technology and medicine can once again lead the world with common goals of research-led peace, prosperity, good health and wellbeing. Scanning this horizon of perspective is fascinating and the websites of Professor Rosling (http://www.gapminder.org/) and David McCandless (http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/) show graphically how easy it is to restore morale in UK science(by learning from Imperialist history since its inception in Greece) and the vital importance of providing education and scholarly research to create a sustainable educated world http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZoKfap4g4w with research at the helm, supported by visionary & popular political policy makers and enlightened academics. These statisticians working with governmental advisors like Professor Sir Michael Marmot (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00wgq01) have the capacity to inspire career researchers at both ends of the very very steep funding ladder and to inform justified policy change.

1.2 I have a lifelong interest in multidisciplinary research across the spectrum of Physiology, Neuroscience, Pharmacology, Toxicology, Anaesthesia, Medical and Pharmacy education, and Intensive care. My involvement in/ collaborations with industry have helped to develop new drugs and pesticides (which are important in treating drug resistant epilepsy, neuropathic pain). In toxicology we need a flexible workforce in science who can take on big issues when they occur and this is important in food production, crop-pest control, food safety, bio-security, and many other fields in public health. It is a thrill to be even a minor part in productive teams like this. To succeed the teams need specialists in all types of science from Clinical and Social to Cellular and Molecular. Britain has expertise in all the areas but for a variety of reasons the PHARMACEUTICAL industry (a major driver for the European economy) are leaving our shores and this is a threat to multidisciplinary science, job creation and technological productivity. Taking ideas from lab bench to bedside is virtually impossible without expert multi-disciplinary input (no point in getting excited about a new drug that works in a test tube unless it is formulated effectively and can get into target organs). So this type of joined up scientific thinking is vital if the UK is to succeed in practical, goal-driven science.

1.3 The UK have become besotted with impact and league tables and this, I think, has already been recognised to be damaging by HEFCE and the devolved research councils. It leads inevitably to ultra-expert superstars in relatively narrow fields....it is dangerous to broaden your horizons or take a risk in case one loses that “superstar” mantle that makes you fundable and gets you noticed. So there are no real incentives to think outside of the reductionist silo. Even the “one-stop” web site that I visited before drafting this was encouraging contributors not to tick more than one of the specialist boxes. I wanted to tick the social sciences and politics (because I believe that if you are to succeed in life, you need to learn from the past and apply this in the future as a policy maker, see 1.4) but these crucial topics have disappeared from the research map and any sort of academic or objective critique on the banking collapse in the published literature (around the Greenspan ideology) is virtually non-existent. We have opted to give taxpayers money as “bail-outs” to struggling European economies and know that by charging 6% interest (without consulting the taxpayers) that this is going to cripple the participating countries with all the downstream effects on migration and social turbulence/open revolt and similar pernicious interest rates are applied tom development funding in the third world (ie perpetuate the problem for global taxpayers that is being used to encourage banking leaders and their tiny group of shareholders to think that they can respin this malicious web without resistance from our effete and corrupt democratic system). Scientists need to remember their childhood dreams and mobilise outside the reductionist silos to fix our simple problems http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/ . So forgive, forget old grievances and the perpetual need for a fast buck to drive every human enterprise and let us move back to peaceful prosperity (and restore the right to childhood dreams for future generations).

1.4 The funding for research in the UK is good for these “narrow” specialists, referred to above, but with some joined up thinking between scientists and ministers we can change the prospect of making a bigger difference for patients as well as UK & Global prosperity and welfare. It needs an injection of strategic thinking from the politicians and the sciences across ALL of the boxes that we were not allowed to tick and I know that the British Pharmacological Society (BPS) and the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) are constructively looking for solutions to these immediate problems for UK technology and our economy. Harsh ministerial policies in these areas have created a crisis of morale in the life and physical sciences areas but in social sciences and the arts, research funding has been strangled almost completely. Well-rounded citizens with interests in the arts, history and culture are invaluable societal props in times of austerity and many unemployed or underfunded researchers run the risk of incurring mental illness if they have been led into the sharp end of a funding silo that is no longer a priority for research funders or ministerial goals.

1.5 Within the NHS, University and Polytechnic sector there is a lack of cohesion and strategic thinking particularly on workforce development needs and new fee structures to encourage participation all the way through to completion of a higher degree. With a four year Honours degree costing £36,000 to complete, MSc and PhD enrolments are almost certain to slump (but see 1.8) The “science is vital” map and the reductionist trends suggest that there is no joined up thinking and that short term leadership and policy making (in Universities and in Government) is generating most of the problems which are being aired by scientists, administrators and technical staff across the nation. Charismatic HODs, Divisional Heads or Deans raise funds in their silo and starve rival departments of funds. Other leadership teams close workshops, shed skilled technicians and make senior staff redundant before they can mentor young researchers, technicians or administrators. This very quickly strangles technological innovation eg making prototypes or the repair of essential research instrumentation. The concept that research kit and patented prototypes can come from a catalogue is a fundamental flaw. All of these concepts are also under threat because of the fear of litigation if your radical new prototype or invention causes personal injury (so we are increasingly led to the catalogue where a corporate supplier underwrites the risk)...this is not technological innovation it is decay.

2. Simple Solutions

2.1 It is crucial to bring this historical perspective into this crucial and timely debate and remind the ministers (and the exchequer) that they are in a narrow policy path too. Insist on a ppt presentation and show them graphically what our science budget is compared on the billion dollarogram (http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/)........which graphically illustrates the disproportionate knee jerk spending on civil defence (all of which is taking place overseas, an expensive paradox) at great cost to the treasury and to our children who are to inherit our overdraft (but have no pensions to look forward to). The cynical deployment of these responses (despite electoral pledges) has left UK and US science in a sad state of decline (even atrophy) and is opening the floodgates of competition for China, India and the Pacific regions (where the vast majority of post-docs now come from). So we are concurrently eroding our research productivity and our UK training base whilst continually extending the burden of Debt at the treasury and for our own students.

2.2 UK scientists need to find time to see that our crisis is just a paradoxical clash of priorities. The massive amounts of taxpayers money which underpins interventionist foreign policy and armed aggression overseas can be democratically allocated to research and development (across the disciplines at home and abroad). The Universities have greedily enrolled children of dictators only to send them home in times of trouble...it would be more enlightened, surely, to speak calmly and constructively to these alumni and their peers and try and show them the benefits of peace, democracy and staying on for a self-funded higher degree (ie to implant by social networking and open peer-pressure our “developed” society into these troubled regions). The cross faculty fiefdoms should also put their weapons back in the chest and work together to achieve an integrated and expert multi-disciplinary society driven by technological discovery and development. Insight into the funding/budgetary statistics will show how trivial these issues are to reverse: assuming we retain democratic means of expressing our constructive wishes to our political leaders (we are in a similar position to the dictators children in this respect...completely in the hands of those who promised a quality product and a lifetime of happiness and a long productive career). Britain’s war chest is admittedly much smaller than that in the USA (see Mccandless web site http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/) but both Nations have flexible economies that can switch to caring support in the developing countries and at home (where the pounds will be back in our pockets and available for R&D rather than perpetuation of violence).

2.3 Since President Kennedy’s untimely death peace has been an unattainable solution for researchers across the world but I have an even more radical and difficult concept for you. In times of austerity all sectors of society should consider working a four day week. In Universities the benefits are clear cut (20% reduction of the tertiary education payroll budget can be ploughed into research funding: particularly for young faculty and those brave enough to stay in the career researcher pool) This will create time for scholarly activity (out with those precious sabbaticals that only a few enlightened or prestigious Institutions can give to their staff), save jobs across all sectors and create the most important factor of all...TIME TO THINK, polish up your research grants, papers and give you time with the graduate students in the lab and by the sports field . Our selfish generation have imposed tuition fees and are now raising this burden for their own kids (VC’s should lead this: they get bigger salaries than our political leaders and this will be an inspirational gesture in the eyes of our young charges in teaching, research and career mentoring) Many will initially be shocked by this concept that we would take the pound from our pocket and throw it at the students and our own research activity but it is better than continuing to rip off our own children and grandchildren in the shameful way we have done so since 1984!

2.4 I would be happy to come and speak at Westminster on any of these issues. I am currently unemployed and have no political, commercial, religious or academic affiliation. What I DO HAVE is time to think after 30 frantic years in research and I thoroughly recommend the enlightenment that time (and a good life/work balance) can give to all UK and global citizens. If I do get a job I will be asking to work a four day week on principle. So it is easy to fix with transient austerity measures and UK researchers will once again lead innovation and the restoration of a peaceful prosperous global society: ENJOY.

25 April 2011

Prepared 7th November 2011