What happens to UK Science after the #BREXIT shock?


physics--cern_lhc-particle--540x238-q60“WE can go it alone, we don’t need them” has been a LEAVE stance, and yet if the UK is indeed to thrive outside the EU then there will need to be a considerable scientific investment to make up for the sudden absence of EU funding. It also of course goes way beyond the pure dollar value because modern science is very much an international collaborative endeavour.

The aftermath from the fact and reality based side were very clearly articulated prior to the vote, and so there has been a quite active campaign named “Scientists for EU” that has been very vocally yelling that a BREXIT will have extremely serious and very negative consequences for the funding of Science in the UK. Their stance has been this …

Science and innovation are key issues for three reasons: The first is the importance of science, research and innovation to the UK’s economic future. The second is that science is one of the EU’s greatest success stories and a key boost to our national innovation capacity. The third is that modern science and technology tackle our global challenges through international frameworks.

Science is too often overlooked in national political and economic discussion, but this cannot continue into debates about our future role in the world. Through the EU, we currently tackle many international challenges that we all face together; whether they be around health, environment, energy or other areas demanding scientific innovation.

Scientists for EU will campaign for continued EU membership and will communicate the current and future benefits of the EU to the UK via its impact on our science capacity. We will also communicate why this in turn is important to our jobs, prosperity and quality of life.

BREXIT has happened – what now?

As has been rightly pointed out by Nature on 28th June, we just don’t know …

many researchers are worried about long-lasting damage. Beyond the immediate economic impacts and the potential loss of EU funding — which currently supplies some 16% of UK university research money — scientists fear a loss of mobility between the country and the continent.

There are a few rather obvious aspects to it all.

People

Will the UK still be an attractive destination for talented researchers?

The highly charged and quite toxic anti-immigration stance will most probably factor into the decision making process, so individuals faced with a choice may indeed pause and seriously consider less toxic alternatives.

Money

The estimate is that roughly £8 billion has been provided by the EU for science funding within the UK during the last decade – that will quite obviously cease, and the cash strapped austerity government will not be replacing that.

Additionally, as pointed out in Nature …

The United Kingdom is also by far the largest recipient of loans to EU universities and research institutions from the European Investment Bank (EIB), receiving more than €2.8 billion since 2005 — some 28% of total EIB loans for higher education and research over that period. Agreed loans are secure, but the fate of those that are just beginning to be considered is unclear, says EIB spokesman Richard Willis.

You might perhaps recall that the LEAVE advocates were promising that the science funding currently received from the EU would continue to get that funding, but now that BREXIT has happened … guess what? No plans, no agreement, and so no funds. Yet another promise is revealed to be completely and utterly fraudulent.

Policy

UK Science helped shape and guide EU policy. Take for example research on human embryonic stem cells. Germany, Italy and Austria all opposed funding that, but the UK took a different stance and was arguing for this to be funded with appropriate ethical oversight …

The United Kingdom was “in the forefront of guiding us into an acceptable and workable way around the issues”, says stem-cell researcher Christine Mummery of the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. “If the UK cannot participate in decisions like this, it makes me nervous.”

Some things will potentially continue

There are collaborative efforts that are not linked to our EU membership and so they will continue. That includes CERN, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, and the European Space Agency.

But there are also on-going initiatives that are very clearly tightly coupled to the EU, and even in some cases mandate EU membership.

Clearly right now nothing has legally changed, the UK is still a full EU member and has not triggered article 50, so we are now in this very weird state of limbo and uncertainty. If invoked, we are then into completely unchartered territory, and it will in all probability see a sharp decline of the scientific endeavour within the UK, along with the intellectual impoverishment that will be the inevitable consequence of that.

As has been pointed out by an editorial in Nature …

If the United Kingdom does trigger article 50, research facilities owned by the commission and stationed in the country, such as the nuclear-fusion facility JET, face an uncertain future. And until a new agreement is made, UK scientists will be shut out of the EU’s multibillion-euro Horizon 2020 programme — including its prestigious European Research Council granting body, from which the United Kingdom benefits more than any other country, by a wide margin.

But we are not there yet, and that is why organisations such as Scientists for EU and many others are now lobbying hard for this deeply absurd referendum result that rests upon a foundation of lies, deceit and outright fraud to be nullified.

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