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Last modified: 16 November 2015

SiVLogoMaking Science more Vital

I couldn't be at Science Online 2012, now called SpotOn. If I had been, this is what I'd have said in the science policy debates run by Jon Tennant.

Science is Vital and the Campaign for Science and Engineering have done an excellent job of protecting publicly funded science in the UK. I am extremely grateful for that.

But I think that the Science is Vital goal of “extending our influence by setting up local chapters” is misguided. I want to suggest something better.

Let me explain.

At least 50 people have signed the online petition against EU science funding cuts in each of 35 UK cities. This heatmap shows the populations of those cities.

We might expect the heatmap showing the number of people signing the EU petition against science funding cuts to look the same.

It doesn’t.

The people of the South-East of England and Scotland think that science is vital. Those in the North of England are less engaged than they could be.

To suggest why, we can use twitter as a way to measure who Science is Vital and the Campaign for Science and Engineering engage with. On the left we see the people who follow science is vital or the Campaign for Science and Engineering and on the right we see who science is vital and the Campaign for Science and Engineering follow.

It’s clear that these campaigns overwhelmingly influence and are influenced by those in London. The same pattern is obvious for the science policy and science communications communities as a whole.

Oddly for a scientific crowd, it’s much harder to convince people that this matters than it is to show them. But from following the Science is Vital AGM on twitter it seems that people are beginning to wake up to the problem.

So how do we fix this imbalance? The easy answer is to set up local chapters. I think that’s the wrong answer. At the moment, with a single hub in England, the Science is Vital message is widespread across the South of the country. The message is getting through in Scotland too, with a separate media, government and set of institutions with a hub in Edinburgh.

The answer for the North of England is a second hub in Manchester set up as an equal to London. It would take advantage of one of the world’s best-known cities, a vibrant science scene, top Universities, a rapidly growing media presence and some of the UK’s top science advocates.

We must convince nominally national organisations like the Wellcome Trust,  The Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology, the Royal Institution and the Royal societies to move. Holding their engagement, policy and communications work in London, with a few outreach events, harms their stated goals by failing to engage half of the country properly. If they moved just some of their investment in engagement, policy and communications to Manchester — not "outreach" or "visiting events" — science could soon be more vital, more widely. The whole UK would benefit from that change.

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