Sunday, January 31, 2016

Europe and Science

There are many things wrong with the European Union, but if there is one area of the EU's activity which seems to be popular with almost all of those directly affected by it, that area is the European Research Council and the other forms of support which the EU gives to scientific research.

I am, and have been for a length of time which shocks me when I realise how long it is, a member of the "Court" of Bristol University. This used to be, in theory, the University's most senior governing body but has gradually had its' formal and actual powers whittled down for various reasons. Membership of Court remains an excellent opportunity to keep in touch with my Alma Mater and I was struck at the 2015 meeting by how strongly held and almost universal the opinion was among the academics I spoke to that the European Research Council works well and that they would regard loss of preferential access to European research facilities as a result of Brexit as damaging to scientific research in Britain.

This is by no means the sort of reaction you get from people who have had close professional contact with other aspects of the European Union's work and it clearly is not just a matter of people's opinions reflecting where the EU budget is spent. I know plenty of very Eurosceptic farmers, for instance.

I wonder how many of the "students for leave" who have been tweeting their photographs holding signs with various reasons for wanting to vote that way - I hope for their sake most of them express more complex arguments in their finals - have discussed the matters with their lecturers. If they did it is possible that both participants in the conversation would learn things.

Julian Huppert, the former MP for Cambridge, had an article in the Guardian at

about this. It's interesting that he debated against the same UKIP member of the European Parliament in two public debates, one each at Cambridge and Peterborough. The former was a heavy win for Remain, the latter a heavy win for Leave. He thought that this might reflect the preponderance in the former debate of people from the University or from science parks around Cambridge.

I suspect that if every other aspect of the European Union was as popular with the people who had dealings with it as their work to support science, the results of Britain's EU referendum would be s much more resounding win for "remain" than currently looks likely. 


Jim said...

Richard North posted this on his blog on my 40th birthday. I thought it was a great birthday present, and well, it's came in handy today (a little over 1 month later)

I am happy to share My birthday present with you and other readers.


Chris Whiteside said...

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting that the arguments made by Universities for staying in the EU should over-ride all other considerations or even that it has convinced me personally to vote to remain.

I am still waiting to see what Dave's renegotiation secures and what plan the "Leave" campaign propose (I'd be much more sympathetic to them if it is "Flexcit" than some of the other options) before I make up my mind.

I do think it is interesting that such a high proportion of the academics I know personally are extremely keen on the research work done by the EU and want to retain preferential access to it.

There may be a lesson here for the EU - if all the other EU activities were as popular with the people who deal with them as the European Research Council is, the EU would not be in danger of losing Britain and might be quite a bit more highly regarded in other countries as well.