This is a post on the debate organised by the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK featuring the science spokesmen of the Conservatives (Adam Afriyie), Labour (Lord Drayson) and Liberal Democrat (Evan Harris) parties. The debate was structured around pre-selected questions presented to the panel. It was chaired by Roger Highfield, editor of New Scientist and hosted at the Institute of Engineering and Technology.
Lord Drayson benefited from not being on the end of another sustained assault regarding the Science and Technology Facilities Council funding difficulties which have been a centrepiece of most of his recent public outings in this type of forum. The consensus seemed to be that outside problems with the STFC, science and technology had done quite well under Labour. The concerns over impact, which I discussed in a previous post made a showing, my view is that Impact is important but so is the way you measure and use it and the current ideas don’t seem to be going in the right direction. Lord Drayson was able to make a fair defence of recent government policy over stimulus which focuses on the shorter term when compared to stimulus packages in other countries, but he seemed shaky over how cuts in the higher education budget would be achieved.
Adam Afriyie suffered from the disadvantage of being in a party who seem to have consciously steered themselves away from concrete policy statements, spending a lot of time criticising the government but unable to enunciate much clear policy of their own. Concrete policies included a deferment of the REF Impact statements for 2 years (announced this morning), and the waiving of student debts for those going on to teach science. The statement that the “zeitgeist” of David Cameron would lead to increased charitable giving to the medical was met with the online equivalent of wry laughter, as a policy this seems particularly empty. The enthusiastic support of Chris Grayling (Tory shadow home secretary) for the sacking of Professor Nutt and his own rather confused position on the hiring and firing of scientific advisors, did not go down well.