Professor Brian Cox, chair in particle physics at the University of Manchester and popular science broadcaster, questioned the government’s financial priorities by arguing that the bailout of the banking system had cost “more money than the UK has spent on science since Jesus”.
Speaking at the Benjamin Franklin House Symposium at the British Library on 20 September, Professor Cox admitted that in difficult economic times cuts had to be made somewhere, but warned that more than 40 per cent of the UK economy was reliant on an investment in science.
He said statistics proved that the UK was already “the world’s most efficient scientific nation”, accruing almost 12 per cent of citations despite just 1 per cent of the world population and 3 per cent of science funding.
“We already do more with less than anybody else,” he argued. “Almost half our economy rests on investment in universities and science. Any PPE [philosophy, politics and economics] graduate out of Oxford should understand it, but there are a lot of them in the Treasury and they don’t seem to.”
Professor Cox also defended spending on pure physics following infighting between scientists amid the scramble for funding, with engineers claiming that the search for the Higgs boson, the so-called God particle, would have to wait until science was better resourced.
“I think at the heart of that is a lack of understanding of what the search for the Higgs boson is. It’s in the main line of science, without a doubt. It’s very definitely not a search for just another subatomic particle,” he said.
“The impact is huge. The main purpose of science is to make you think, to give you a sense of perspective, to place ourselves in the Universe.”