I somehow scored an invitation to a talk by the Prime Minister sponsored by The Royal Society on “Our Nation’s Future”, specifically, on Science Policy.
(Personally, I was pleased to see an extremely large contingent from Imperial present, including Dame Julia Higgins (Principal of our Faculty of Engineering, and Foreign Secretary [!] of the Royal Society), sharing the rostrum with Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, and the PM.)
He was full of pro-science platitudes, how it keeps the UK competitive, and how it is needed, frankly, to save the planet. The major themes were the need for the UK to remain economically competitive, and, in the wake of the Stern Review, of science’s crucial role alongside political will in fighting climate change.
He was fairly explicit in his preference for investment in applied science (i.e., stuff that can make money) over the curiosity-driven, blue-skies (i.e., useless) stuff that, for example, I do for a living (as does the President of the Royal Society, who chaired and introduced the event.) He emphasized science as a career (and tried to seduce the sixth-form students in the audience into believing it could be a reasonable moneymaking proposition). And he admitted, in so many words, that present-day science education wasn’t doing its job. Despite all of this, there didn’t seem to be any new, concrete policy announcements, just a (still welcome) restatement of his government’s (and, presumably, Gordon Brown’s) commitment to supporting — and funding — science.
There was some irony that the talk was given in the Kings’ Centre in Oxford, “an apostolic centre — that is, a regional base for sending trained and committed workers to serve God in this nation and abroad.” Blair himself said that he didn’t think Science and Religion were necessarily in conflict, although I expect many in the audience would disagree. Further irony was provided by the fact that, contrary to the usual order of things, the building that was now a church of sorts had previously been used for science: MRI had been developed there.
He specifically railed against the “anti-science brigade” and in that location I was therefore disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to ask about his Government’s financial support for at least a few schools that teach their students the blatant crypto-religious falsehoods of Intelligent Design, under the auspices of the ‘City Academy’ programme which, to be blunt, lets rich people decide what’s taught in schools.