BMJ 2002;324:1297 ( 1 June )
Roger Dobson Abergavenny
Prime Minster Tony Blair says that science is vital to the prosperity of the United Kingdom and has urged strong funding and strong public support.
In a wide-ranging speech on science given to the Royal Society last week he said that the United Kingdom was held back by its traditional attitude to science.
"Britain has produced 44 Nobel laureates in the last 50 years, more than any country except the United States. But this statistic does conceal a problem we must acknowledge. Only eight of those laureates are in the last 20 years. We have relied for too long on tradition and sentiment to aid our scientists. We need strong funding and strong public support, not just the warm glow of our traditions," he said.
The prime minister said that with 1% of the world’s population the United Kingdom funds 4.5% of the world’s science, produces 8% of the scientific papers, and receives 9% of the citations.
That, he said, was an outstanding record, adding: "The strength and creativity of our science base is a key national asset as we move into the 21st century."
He said that the country stood on the verge of further leaps forward in scientific endeavour and discovery, and that science was vital to the country’s future prosperity, but warned of potential pitfalls. Science was posing hard questions of moral judgment and of practical concern, which, if addressed in the wrong way, could lead to prejudice against science—and that, he said, would be profoundly damaging.
He went on: "I want to make sure the UK is one of the best places in the world to do science. For that we need our people, equipment and infrastructure to be properly funded. And we should continue to promote British science abroad.
"We need to continue our improvements in Government handling of science, where public trust is particularly low. All departments need strong systems for managing research and handling advice. Scientific information and advice to Government should be freely available and accessible. Open and informed public debate on key scientific issues will be an integral part of our approach."
The full speech is at http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page5044.asp