Cut military R&D, not science funding
Science spending cuts should come mainly from the MoD's R&D budget, not research into health and environmental problems
by Michael Atiyah and others
Wednesday 13 October 2010 00.01
BST Article history
As senior scientists and engineers, we are deeply concerned that while the government is threatening to cut public funding for research and development as a whole, it appears to be committed to maintaining high levels of military-related R&D. Of particular concern is the fact that world-class research into health and global environmental problems is under threat, while the government continues to fund the multibillion pound research programme at the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) at Aldermaston.
Official statistics indicate that the total public spending on R&D is currently about £8bn. Of this, the Ministry of Defence spends over £2bn, more than 25% of the total. Much of this funding is used to support defence industry projects at a time when the industry is reaping bumper profits thanks to a massive increase in global military expenditure over the last decade. Our view is that current MoD R&D funding is not only disproportionate, it also includes expenditure on programmes that are of minimal benefit or counterproductive to the UK's security. For example, funds for the redevelopment of the AWE's research facilities "to ensure that the existing warhead can be maintained for as long as necessary, and to enable the development of a successor warhead should one be required" (quoting from the AWE's mission statement) will, we firmly believe, undermine progress towards multilateral nuclear disarmament.
Our view is that the UK's nuclear warheads should be taken off deployment and placed in secure land-based storage, and that the successor to the Trident system should be scrapped. The facilities at the AWE should be directed solely to monitoring and verification of arms control and disarmament agreements.
Overall, therefore, we believe that any cuts to public science spending should predominantly come from cuts to the MoD's R&D.
However, there are some areas of security-related R&D that should be expanded, including those which support monitoring of arms control agreements, non-violent conflict resolution, and tackling the roots of conflict and insecurity.
The overarching threats to international security arise from rising fuel and resource costs, the impacts of climate change and other environmental problems, and the widening gap between rich and poor. Nuclear weapons are of no help in dealing with these problems – indeed, they are likely to make matters far worse. On the other hand, a major shift of military R&D to civilian programmes of work will – if targeted carefully – help to tackle these international problems, improving the UK's security and also leading to greater job creation and a faster emergence from the current recession. As an example of the current imbalance in resources, we note that the current MoD R&D budget is more than 20 times larger than public funding for R&D on renewable energy.
We therefore urge ministers to shift their priorities so that science and technology can contribute to tackling the real threats to the UK's present and future security.
Sir Michael Atiyah, Professor (Honorary) of Mathematics, University of Edinburgh
Keith Barnham, Professor (Emeritus) of Physics, Imperial College London
Roy Butterfield, Professor (Emeritus) of Civil Engineering, University of Southampton
David Caplin, Professor (Emeritus) of Physics, Imperial College London
Roland Clift, Professor (Emeritus) of Environmental Technology, University of Surrey
Anne-Christine Davis, Professor of Theoretical Physics, University of Cambridge
David Elliott, Professor (Emeritus) of Technology Policy, The Open University
Christopher French, Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London
Leon Freris, Professor (Visiting) of Renewable Energy Systems, Loughborough University
Jonathan Harwood, Professor (Emeritus) of History of Science & Technology, University of Manchester
Alastair Hay, Professor of Environmental Toxicology, University of Leeds
Robert Hinde, Professor (Emeritus) of Zoology, University of Cambridge
David Infield, Professor of Renewable Energy Technologies, University of Strathclyde
Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development, University of Surrey
Tom Kibble, Professor (Emeritus) of Physics, Imperial College London
Sir Harold Kroto, Professor (Emeritus) of Chemistry, University of Sussex; Professor of Chemistry, Florida State University; Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (1996)
Matthew Leach, Professor of Energy and Environmental Systems
Amyan Macfadyen, Professor (Emeritus) of Ecology and Environmental Science, University of Ulster
Aubrey Manning, Professor (Emeritus) of Natural History, University of Edinburgh
Stephen Morse, Professor of Systems Analysis for Sustainability
Eike Nagel, Professor of Clinical Cardiovascular Imaging, King's College London
Jenny Nelson, Professor of Physics, Imperial College London
John F Nye, Professor (Emeritus) of Physics, University of Bristol
Lawrence Paulson, Professor of Computational Logic, University of Cambridge
Malcolm Povey, Professor of Food Physics, University of Leeds
William Powrie, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering
Norman Sheppard, Professor (Emeritus) of Chemistry, University of East Anglia
John Sloboda, Professor (Emeritus) of Psychology, Keele University
Peter F Smith, Professor of Sustainable Energy, University of Nottingham
Tim Valentine, Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London
F J Vine, Professor (Emeritus) of Environmental Science, University of East Anglia
Alex Warleigh-Lack, Professor of Politics and International Relations, Brunel University
David Webb, Professor of Engineering, Leeds Metropolitan University
John Whitelegg, Professor (Visiting) of Sustainable Transport, Liverpool John Moores University; Professor (Visiting) of Sustainable Transport, York University
Tom Woolley, Professor of Architecture, Queens University Belfast (retired)
Peter Young, Professor (Emeritus) of Environmental Systems, Lancaster University