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Psychologists speak out against cuts
By the time you read this, the coalition government will have announced the results of its comprehensive spending review, setting departmental budgets for several years to come. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is responsible for science funding, has been warned, like other departments, to expect cuts of up to 25 per cent.
UK scientists, including psychologists, have reacted with alarm to the prospect of severe funding cuts, especially at a time when other countries, including the USA, China, Sweden and Germany, are increasing their science funding. Dr Emily Holmes, a Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University and member of the British Psychological Society's Research Board, was on the advisory group for a Royal Society report published earlier this year that called on UK science to be protected from cuts. She told us the planned cuts pose not an imaginary but a real threat to the future of UK science.
'Psychological science in its many forms will be affected,' Holmes said. 'We need to speak out against the planned cuts. Also, we all need to help politicians understand how vital basic science is to human health, wealth and happiness. Psychology has so many examples to draw on, such as the huge inroads CBT (grounded in cognitive science) has made in improving mental health. There is no avoiding the fact that if these cuts occur, the continued success of psychology in the UK is under threat.'
In a speech in September, the Business Secretary Vince Cable described the UK situation. 'We have to operate in a financially constrained environment,' he said, adding that he recognised the value of science and innovation to the UK's economic grown. The government currently invests £6 billion a year in science and research,
'The question I have to address,' he said, 'is can we achieve more with less? ... My preference is to ration research funding by excellence. We back researchers and research teams of international quality regardless of where they are and what they do, and screen out mediocrity.' He also called for stronger links to be forged between research and business, to help exploit the economic potential in science.
In another speech given in September, the Science and Universities Minister David Willetts echoed Cable's comments about the valuable contribution made by science to the economy, but he also warned: 'Yes, cuts are coming. And - yes - sadly there will be some pain. But if we are smart and courageous and work together we can emerge with a stronger and better sector.'
Responding to these announcements, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL, told us she fears the UK is going to suffer a brain drain of scientific talent to other countries. 'The level of cuts being discussed in the UK, together with increased science budgets in other countries including in Europe, North America, China and India, will inevitably lead to some of the UK's best scientists taking up job offers in other countries,' she said. 'This would destabilise the scientific community, and the UK would risk losing its reputation as a world-leader in science. It would be very difficult to recover from this.
So the proposed cuts could seriously damage UK science and innovation in the long term.'
At the time of writing the Science is Vital campaign has received support from over 11,000 signatories, with a march planned for 9 October. Dr Gerry Mulhern, President of the British Psychological Society, said: 'We stand full square behind the campaign and hope that it will not only persuade government to re-think its proposed cuts to science, but will unite all scientific disciplines in relation to the fundamental need to enhance the UK science base.'
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