My column in the Times on British science and the European Union:
The House of Lords science and technology committee, on which I sit, has produced a report on British science and the European Union. Most scientists are enthusiastic to remain in the EU but many seem to be under the same misapprehension I was until recently: that European scientific collaboration and funding is dependent on being a member of the EU. It’s not.
The main science funding programmes, such as Horizon 2020, are open to European countries, not just to EU members — and indeed to some non-European countries such as Turkey, Tunisia and Israel. The same is true of the main scientific collaborations. The European Molecular Biology Organisation, the European Space Agency: these are pan-European, not EU projects. The particle accelerator at CERN actually crosses (beneath) the border between an EU and a non-EU country. CERN gets less than 2 per cent of its budget from the EU.
Remainers say we could lose influence in creating science policy if we left the EU because we would not be represented in the European parliament. Really? In Britain we insist that scientists set their own priorities.
Lord help us if we leave science policy to the European parliament, a hotbed of anti-scientific gullibility and big business lobbying. Misguided EU policies have destroyed Europe’s lead in agricultural biotechnology; put obstacles in the way of vaping at the behest of big pharmaceutical companies and tobacco growers; excused homeopaths from efficacy tests; passed a clinical-trials directive that was a disaster for research; and put carbon dioxide emissions reductions before air quality, resulting in thousands of premature deaths. What’s next?
Research is a global activity. Britain is, for its size, probably the world’s leading scientific country. We have less than 1 per cent of the world’s population, but 15 per cent of the most highly cited scientific papers, and more Nobel prize winners than any other European country. Our biggest science collaborator is America. The only EU universities in the world’s top 20 are British.
The government’s crackdown on non-EU migration, about which universities are rightly squealing, is because ministers cannot stem EU migration to hit their immigration targets. This makes it frustratingly hard for academics to get visas for hiring Indians, Chinese and Americans. By 2030, 90 per cent of the science, technology and mathematics graduates in the world will be non-European. We must continue to bring in EU scientists, but not discriminate against non-EU ones as we do now.
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