Go back

Has Cable given up on science already?

The BBC and Guardian this morning have been given some advance extracts from Vince Cables speech on science today. The key quote they have both focused on is this:

“There is no justification for taxpayers money being used to support research which is neither commercially useful nor theoretically outstanding”.

That sounds reasonable at first. But hang on, we already have mechanisms throughout our research system in this country to try and ensure this doesnt happen. QR funding already is tightly focused on departments that have proved themselves to be those things in the RAE. Every grant that is awarded by a research council gets its funding because it meets those criteria better than the competing proposals. Heads of department and vice chancellors are constantly assessing the performance of researchers to see whether they are producing work that meets these sorts of criteria.

But still, Cables language suggests that lots of money is being wasted because academics are somehow keen on subsidising crummy research. Thats not the case. The problem is, you have to hand out the funding before the research gets done. And there is no nice neat way of ensuring that all the money gets used well. For example, if you only give money to researchers or departments or institutions who have already proven to be brilliant, you end up just funding the same old crowd, who lose their edge.

His department knows all this. But in his speech, it seems Cable is intent on glossing over the intrinsic difficulties in managing government research spending. Why? The obvious explanation is that he wants to soften researchers up for a coming round of deep cuts. Where is the fight, Vince? Where is the man who told voters he was in favour of rebalancing the economy? If Cable ever fought with the Treasury to defend the research budget, I dont know. But these extracts from his speech suggest he has now definitively given up.