The controversial Cambridge University scientist Terence Kealey, who claims science would be better off without Government funding, lost a debate on the issue this week.
Dr Kealey and Unilever's Tony Lee were opposed by the Sussex University science policy expert Keith Pavitt and biologist Lewis Wolpert, at the Wellcome Building in London.
Dr Kealey argued that the total amount of science a country needs to do is determined by its wealth. "Rich countries, or rich companies, need to do more science than poor ones to compete. This would happen whether or not governments put a single penny in."
But Sussex University's Professor Pavitt said that public-funded res- earch, closely linked to higher education, was an irreplaceable part of technical change. "It is not a substitute for what is done in private firms."
Dr Kealey's supporter Tony Lee, head of Unilever's exploratory research, said there were more ideas than could ever be followed up. Market forces could sort out the wheat from the chaff. Dr Lee also said that resources were spread across far too many departments.
Professor Wolpert said Dr Kealey and Dr Lee were caught up in a "Thatcherite miasma", adding: "What we have here is a charade, an undercover story about why one shouldn't tax industry." The vast majority of the 170-strong audience voted against Dr Kealey's view.