Who's looking after Scottish science?

Who's looking after Scottish science?

Scotland’s public sector science base is under threat from a barrage of cuts and stagnant funding that has already closed, or earmarked for closure, three leading research facilities in the country.

That is the message contained in a new report from the scientists’ union Prospect – "Who’s looking after Scottish science?" – being launched at 1.30pm on June 14 in the Scottish Parliament.

The union warns that while the government publicises its £10 billion investment in commercial science, behind the headlines science for the national good is fast disappearing.

In Scotland alone:

  • The Hannah Research Institute closed in April with the loss of around 1,000 years of scientific experience despite its reputation for world-class research into breast cancer and diseases such as diabetes.

  • The Sourhope Research Station, one of three Macaulay Institute farms, is under review. Sourhope is one of 11 UK sites in the Environmental Change Network, which measures long-term changes in dry and wet aerial deposition, water quality, soil characteristics, vegetation and wildlife.

  • The Natural Environment Research Council’s recent announcement that it is to close the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) at Banchory will inevitably impact adversely on research into climate change and biodiversity.

  • Plans to merge the Roslin and Moredun Research Institutes and the Neuropathogenesis Unit at the Institute for Animal Health to create a new Bioscience Research Centre in Edinburgh could lead to further job losses.
Prospect argues that despite the key role science and technology plays in underpinning economic success, without proper investment in staff and facilities this will reduce. Such investment cannot be done on the basis of business cases that have no regard to the impact on national scientific capability.

Sue Ferns, Head of Prospect Research, said: "At present, it appears that nobody wants to take on the key responsibility of caring for the national science base. As highlighted in a recent consultancy report looking at the Scottish Agricultural and Biological Research Institutes (SABRIs), there is a need for ‘effective and co-ordinated stewardship of the science base’ to deliver not only policy requirements and quality science but also provide the value for money so sought after by governments.

"Prospect believes it cannot be in Scotland’s interests to cut back so much work of practical application, which is renowned worldwide and peer-reviewed for quality. The short-sightedness of such an approach – and the need for scientific expertise that can respond quickly and flexibly – is unfortunately highlighted by the recent incidence of Avian Influenza."

‘Who’s looking after Scottish science?" paints the picture across the nation and follows an earlier report from Prospect looking at the situation across England, Scotland and Wales. That report found that despite an overall loss of a third of staff engaged in research and development in government since 1994-95, the high quality research undertaken by public sector scientists demonstrates that there is still much to be proud of.

Prospect members in Scottish publicly-funded scientific bodies will gather for a photo opportunity on Calton Hill at 12.30 carrying 3ft giant balloons with the slogan "local science – global needs."

They will then be on-hand to describe the impact of cuts in their own institutes at a media briefing and launch of Prospect’s new report, "Who’s looking after Scottish science," taking place at 1.30pm in committee room TG20/21 of the Scottish Parliament.

They will include a principal scientist who undertook research into human breast cancer cell lines at the now defunct Hannah Research Institute; a geneticist from the Scottish Crop Research Institute; an ecologist from the Macaulay Institute and two from CEH Banchory; and an engineer from the UK Astronomy Technology Centre. The briefing, organised with the support of Phil Gallie, MSP for Scotland South, will be followed by a lobby of MSPs.

You can download a copy of "Who’s looking after Scottish science" in PDF format