Kelly furore highlights poor pay of Britain's scientists

August 22, 2003

One issue being ignored in the political tug-of-war surrounding the late government scientist David Kelly is poor pay for scientists, academics and MPs warned this week.

The Hutton inquiry into Dr Kelly's death, which began last week, heard that the top-level weapons expert was unhappy with his £63,496 salary.

Dr Kelly had been scientific adviser to the proliferation and arms control secretariat at the Ministry of Defence for more than three years. Prior to this he was senior adviser on biological warfare to the United Nations in Iraq from 1994 until 1999.

The chair of the Commons science and technology committee, Ian Gibson, told The THES: "You can bet the Americans pay scientists in this field more.

They compensate them for the fact that they can't use their knowledge and experience in an open market."

Members of this committee, which has conducted its own inquiry into the scientific response to terrorism, have said scientists should be compensated for working in areas where their ability to publish research will be curtailed by the need for secrecy.

Dr Kelly's salary did in fact exceed the standard pay bracket for government scientific advisers, which is between £51,000 and £54,000.

But such salaries are easily eclipsed by those offered in the US.

Scientists working for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a bureau of the US government, can expect to be paid up to $142,500 (£89,415), and private-sector salaries are far higher.

Paul Wilkinson, chair of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, said the government and universities needed to think hard about how they rewarded scientists involved in fighting terrorism.

He said: "We are short of really well-salaried appointments in this field and we are in danger of losing our best people in a brain drain to America.

The Americans are very keen to find bright scientists who can help them in the war against terrorism."

But Professor Wilkinson said the problem stretched beyond salaries. He warned that the government and the research councils were still not concentrating enough research funding on terrorism.

"This is a problem that will be here for a long time," he said. "Terrorism gets so much attention in the media that people assume research in this field must be very well funded, but that's simply not the case. It has been a Cinderella area."

 

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