Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Blair's Support for Science

Many critics of Tony Blair are quick to draw a parallel between Blair and Bush. But this "News of the Week" piece in the latest issue of Science shows why such a comparison is unfounded. The article outlines the strong boost Blair has given science during his ten year tenure as Prime Minister. Contrast this with Bush's record (see here and here) and you see how different their worldviews really are. Here is an excerpt from the Science article:

As Tony Blair last week announced his intention to step down in June after 10 years as the United Kingdom's prime minister, the British media cited his devastatingly low poll ratings as proof that the Iraq war would overshadow any other legacy for the Labour Party leader. But the U. K.'s scientific community has far warmer feelings toward Blair's government, thanks to its steady and significant increases in funding, its liberal attitude to human embryonic stem cell research, the recruitment of scientists to help shape government policy, and a clampdown against animal-rights extremists. And Blair early on embraced the dangers of climate change as a personal crusade, even making it a focal point of the 2005 summit of the G8 leaders.

When Blair spoke out about science, his enthusiasm was evident. "This government is unabashedly pro-research," says neurobiologist Colin Blakemore, head of the U.K. Medical Research Council. "There is a deep commitment to science and what it can achieve for government."

In 1997, Blair's Administration took over a scientific enterprise that had been slowly starved of funding over 18 years of Conservative government. The first sign of revival came in 1998 in the new government's initial spending review: Research got a 15% boost over 3 years. "[Blair's] interest and commitment to science go right to the beginning," says University of Oxford ecologist Robert May, chief scientific adviser to the U.K. at the time. Over Blair's tenure, the science budget, which supports the grant-giving research councils as well as subscriptions to the likes of the CERN particle physics lab and the European Southern Observatory, has more than doubled in real terms to its present £3.4 billion ($6.7 billion). Among other things, that money paid for the new £380 million Diamond synchrotron, which began operating in January and is the biggest new U.K. research facility in 40 years. "There's a lot more of a positive feeling now in the whole scientific endeavor," says geneticist Robin Lovell-Badge of the National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill.

I do not think we shall see scientists making supportive statements like this at the end of Bush's Presidency.