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Liberal Democrats claim the UK science high ground

Nick Clegg, leader of England’s third political party the Liberal Democrats, last night attempted to cement his party’s reputation as the most science-friendly.

Speaking to the Royal Society in London, he provided “five guarantees” for scientists: “Honesty on funding; an end to arbitrary impact assessment; better science education; evidence based policy-making; libel reform.”

Of course, no one expects the Liberal Democrats to win the next election, but if there is a hung parliament they might be in a position to push at least some of their policies as a crucial coalition partner.

“The challenge that faces us is the reinvention of our economy on new principles. Science, maths, engineering and technology must be at the heart of that project,” said Clegg.

Of course, the Labour government has been singing from that hymn sheet since it came to power. But Clegg implied the Lib Dems would be less focused on the impact of research – a big thread in Labours plans for university funding and the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework which will guide that funding.

“It is very worrying that the Research Excellence Framework, currently being piloted, downgrades pure research, when we all know the utility of research is so hard to predict,” he said.

Clegg also decried the government’s treatment of drugs advisor David Nutt, who was sacked after publicising his research and his views on the relative harms of drugs (see past stories). That “showed flagrant disregard for the need to insulate evidence-based policy making from party politics”, he said.

In another move that will play well with UK researchers, Clegg promised to reform UK libel law. Many scientists have complained that the law as it stands stifles debate on certain topics.

The Times thinks Clegg was being “a little disingenuous” when criticising government funding cuts while refusing to rule out cuts himself. Overall though, it looks like the Liberal Democrats may continue to edge out both Labour and the Conservatives in wooing the science vote.

Trivia fact (much played up by Clegg): his grandfather used to edit the British Medical Journal.


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