Leader: Big science demands longer-term policies

June 15, 2001

In our lifetime, the origin of the universe and its properties of mass, time and space has turned from a matter of speculation or belief into experimental science. The same applies to the existence of other solar systems, the origin of life, the nature of consciousness and a host of other fundamental questions.

This golden age of knowledge is accompanied by novel machinery for scholarship, such as space probes, data mines and the worldwide web. Existing patterns of knowledge production, such as the traditional print journal and even the traditional university, are faced with massive change as a result.

In a week when British attention has been focused on the short term, especially the future shape and direction of government, our series on the big science questions that begins on page 20 reminds us that adequately funded and equipped academics are essential if the United Kingdom is to remain plugged into the knowledge explosion taking place. A government that appreciated this, and realised that the fact that some such discoveries will lead to profitable businesses is a secondary consideration, would be one worth supporting.

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