No, Stephen Hawking, Science Doesn’t Need Any Help From The European Union

World reknown british astrophysicist Stephen Hawking delivers a lecture on the origin of the universe to coincide with the announcement of the 'Next Einstein' initiative, on May 11, 2008, on the outskirts of Cape Town.

Stephen Hawking and 150 other distinguished scientists – all fellows of the Royal Society – have written a letter to the (London) Times saying that if Britain leaves the European Union it would be a “disaster for UK science.”

No it wouldn’t.

Only 3 per cent of science R & D funding in Britain comes from the European Union. And it’s not as though we should be grateful for this sop: not when you consider that Britain puts far more into the EU than it gets back in return. If we were out, we could decide for ourselves how much we want to spend on science – and on which projects – rather than having a bunch of incompetent foreigners decide for us.

When I say “a bunch of incompetent foreigners” I mean just that. Look at the example of the EU’s flagship GPS project in which 28 states have come together in peace and unity and utter pointlessness to spunk Euros 13 billion of taxpayers’ money on a satellite navigation programme that no one actually needs any more because there’s a perfectly good one available already.

Is that the kind of science project we’d tragically miss out on if Britain were to quit the EU? Thirteen years delayed, three times overbudget and the space age equivalent of a chocolate ashtray? If so, I can’t say I’m going to be weeping too many bitter tears for the scientists we would have paid for to do that particular job.

Oh but what about CERN? Imagine! If it hadn’t been for the EU we might never have discovered the Higgs Boson…

Bollocks we wouldn’t have done.

Another of the myths being put about is that leaving the political structures of the EU will affect our participation in the CERN project – the European Organisation for Nuclear Research and home of the Large Hadron Collider. This is simply not true. CERN is an international collaboration of many countries, including many non-EU nations. The UK were founding members of the project back in 1954, and are currently CERN’s third largest contributor. The official status of the EU in respect to CERN is that of an OBSERVER, along with UNESCO, Russia, India, Japan and the USA.

Freedom of movement for scientists then. Think of all the brilliant researchers who’d be denied entry to Britain…

Except, of course, they wouldn’t. If Britain were to regain control of its immigration system, we could decide for ourselves which categories of worker were most vital to our economy and grant them visas accordingly on a points based system like the one in Australia.

All this presupposes that “science” is such a wonderful, shimmery thing that it deserves masses of public money to be chucked at it regardless of any intrinsic merit.

I know this is what everyone at the BBC thinks but I’d say the case is at best moot.

Matt Ridley is good on this in his book The Evolution of Everything.

He quotes a 2007 analysis by Leo Sveikauskas of the Bureau of Economic Analysis who concluded that returns from many forms of publicly financed R & D are near zero and that “many elements of university and government research have very low returns, overwhelmingly contribute to economic growth only directly, if at all.”

Over the next weeks and months I shall be providing a few examples of the kind of spectacular waste of taxpayer’s money I mean. They seem to be especially prevalent, I note in the world of climate change.

Here’s one to be going on with. She’s the author of a letter to the Daily Telegraph I spotted yesterday.

SIR – Rupert Darwall’s polemic on our energy crunch makes three major mistakes.

First, Britain is not going to see a US-style “shale revolution”; the economics don’t stack up, and British people don’t want fracking.

Secondly, wind and solar do not impose significant “hidden” costs on consumers. The Committee on Climate Change, which advises the Government, calculates the cost at about £10 per year per household.

Thirdly, Mr Darwall assumes that climate change is not a serious issue. It is serious, so a fossil-fuels-as-usual electricity system will not do.

Renewable energy can deliver the market-based electricity system that Mr Darwall wants, but getting there entails some years of transitional support. Renewables will not need the endless subsidies associated with nuclear power and fossil fuels.

Catherine Mitchell
Professor of Energy Policy, University of Exeter
Penryn, Cornwall

Please God, don’t say that any of our tax money is paying this woman to write such Panglossian drivel. Please!


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