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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What was that about STFC and Haldane?

In an earlier post I mentioned that one of the most interesting things to come out of the Estimates Day debate on the Science Budget in the House of Commons was how they referred to STFC in the context of the Haldane principle.

Let me explain.

A question I have heard since this shortfall debacle began is over whether STFC is effectively just a branch of the government, representatives of the science community, or some mixture of both.

If the answer is that they are a branch of the government then it is assumed that they are responsible for exercising government policy, if not then they are beholden, somewhat, to the wishes of the community. Now of course even if they are not part of government they would be foolish to ignore government when they outline science priorities in the context of a spending review.

I think that discussion of the Haldane principle during that debate answered the question.

Since the government believes it is up to STFC to determine what it should spend its money on once the money is handed over it is quite clear that the government takes the view that STFC is a representative of the science community. Any suggestion that they are a de facto branch of government and responsible for executing government policy (outside of earmarked funds) is wide of the mark.

Now again there is the caveat that it would be an unwise research council that ignored government science policy in deciding how to spend its money; however ultimately the views of the scientists are pre-eminent in formulating how the money should be spent.

Of course one then gets into an argument over whether the research councils are truly representative or are we in the territory of a select few deciding what science to do. And who is to say which is the right way to go about its?

But that is another issue completely.

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