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Cuts threatened to UK parliament science advice

When British politicians want advice on science policy issues, they – or their staff – often turn to the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), an in-house briefings unit that provides analysis on everything from consumer genetic testing to low-carbon technologies.

But POST now finds itself threatened with cuts of up to a quarter of its £570,000 (US$913,000) budget, under proposed cost-saving measures to the House of Commons library services. “If the cuts suggested were made wholly on such a small scientific body like POST, it could spell the end of science in Parliament as we know it.  Nobody wants to see this happen as it would be a self-defeating action,” Adam Afriyie, POST’s chair and a Conservative MP, told Nature.

Today, two former British science ministers, a Nobel laureate and a host of UK learned societies are arguing that the service’s budget should be protected. “The House of Commons has a deficit of Members with a scientific or engineering background,” they write in a letter to the House of Commons Commission (which decides on budgeting), co-ordinated by the Campaign for Science and Engineering, a London-based science lobby group: “We are of the view that the role of POST has never been more important.”

On its surface, the published proposals (pdf, page 20) seem innocent enough: the proposed saving of £98,000 is a mere 1.4% of the House of Commons library research budget. But it’s feared the entire amount will be loaded onto POST, lopping 17% off a budget which has already recently been voluntarily downsized by 7% with salary cuts. The issue is up for debate in the House of Commons on Thursday, and Afriyie is hoping to keep any further cuts down to the 1.4% level.

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    Umberto Cannella said:

    Putting forth a petition is very welcome, in that it asks the public to express its support; however in order for the public to be appreciative of science it has to be made aware first and this can only be achieved if the public is engaged in a two-way conversation with the scientific community. My recipe for tackling this problem at its roots is in a paper I titled “Who cares about physics today? A marketing strategy for the survival of fundamental science and the benefit of society”: it is available at http://arxiv.org/abs/1210.0082, I hope you will find it interesting.
    For a more condensed treatment of how to prevent budget cuts to affect science, in Europe as well as in the US, you may want to take a look at this entry on my blog http://drcinnamon.blogspot.com/2012/10/sequestration-cuts-in-europe-this.html.

    Let us fight together!

    Umberto Cannella, PhD
    Postdoctoral Research Assistant
    Maryland Center for Fundamental Physics
    Rm. 4109, J. S. Toll Physics Bldg
    University of Maryland
    College Park, Maryland 20742

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