Roll up for blue-skies battle

Researchers and science communicators to cross swords with Lord Drayson. Phil Baty reports

November 5, 2009

It started with a tweet. When Lord Drayson was confirmed as Minister for Science and Defence Procurement in June, scientists immediately voiced their concerns via the social-networking website, Twitter.

"Anyone else worried that science and defence are now inextricably politically linked, with Lord Drayson doing both jobs?" wrote "Skyponderer", aka Colin Stuart, a freelance astronomer at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Lord Drayson, at the time competing in the Le Mans' 24-hour motor-racing event, responded to the posting and a lively debate ensued.

Some tweeters had ethical concerns about the link between science and defence, while others thought science had not been given a high enough priority in the Cabinet.

After Times Higher Education's intervention, the debate took the form of head-to-head opinion pieces by Lord Drayson and Mr Stuart in the magazine.

After Mr Stuart's piece, the minister used Twitter to ask: what next? He suggested a live debate, and Times Higher Education was happy to oblige. "Blue skies ahead: the prospects for UK science" will see Lord Drayson and a panel of up-and-coming researchers and science communicators discuss the issues under the chairmanship of Brian Cox, particle physicist at the University of Manchester.

Tickets are free but limited in number, although the event will be streamed live online on our website, Times Higher Education will also report the event live on Twitter, hash-tag #sciblue (@timeshighered).

Short but tweet: the origins of the debate

skyponderer - Anyone else worried that science and defence are now inextricably politically linked? With lorddrayson doing both jobs!?

LordDrayson - @skyponderer What are you worried about?

skyponderer - @LordDrayson I am disappointed that science is undervalued enough not to need a full-time minister ...

LordDrayson - @skyponderer It's not undervalued. It's not about the time thing. It's about the what you get done thing

PD_Smith - Joseph Rotblat for one must be turning in his grave that sci & defence are now merged

LordDrayson - @skyponderer What would you like done to address your concerns?

LordDrayson - @PD_Smith Science deserves a minister at the Cabinet table. That's key. Tick. Sci deserves a Cabinet committee. That's key too. Tick.

PD_Smith - @LordDrayson And what about combining sci & defence procurement? Does it send out the right message in an age of nuclear proliferation?

LordDrayson - @PD_Smith Re: ethical issues. You have a point. I have to be absolutely clear on the separation between the 2 roles. Civil service r key.

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