Science and the general election

The UK will be voting for a new government on June 8th and already the media has been full of coverage about all sorts of policy topics, from housing and education, to defence spending and fox hunting. But not a word on science…

Perhaps it’s not too surprising that science has been left out of any pledges from the major political parties so far, given there are plenty of important, divisive topics to be debated (although fox hunting really is not one of them, Mrs May). But to have no mention of evidence-based policy, or reductions in science budgets, or even the effects of Brexit on research and academia, is a little disappointing.

As a young scientist, there’s a lot of other, more immediate, stuff for me to be concerned about too: Where is my research funding going to come from? What are my job prospects after my fixed-term contract is up? Will I have the disruption of having to move house again soon? Can I afford to have kids or buy a home? Are my family going to be ok?

In the short term, I’m ok. Together, my other half and I can afford the rent, my research fellowship is a relatively long 3-year contract and comes with enough money for my research and the university has other sources of money available in established internal funds. But others I know are definitely not so lucky. Other researchers my age are still having to house-share and, due to the insecurity of fixed-term contracts, can’t even start to consider buying or starting family life. That’s even without the huge housing problem in Oxford – rents and property prices are sky-high and the least affordable in the country. I dread to think about how teachers and nurses are surviving here on much lower salaries than most post-doc scientists. It’s no surprise to me that since 2010 homelessness has become very prevalent here.

Back to science though, and it was great to see so many people attending the March for Science across the world in April, and the media attention it brought. But the voices of science have gone a bit quiet when they could – and should – be loud! Policies should be being announced preceded by “Research shows that…” and “The overwhelming evidence says that…” and if they’re not, we should be questioning why not. As for policies directly concerning scientific research and education in the UK, we should be making sure that politicians recognise their importance to our society’s future and place them centre stage.

We’ve got just under three weeks to make our voices heard…

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