Science is cultural

September 11, 1998

The persistent belief of scientists ("BAchief wants a ministry of science", THES, September 4) that a separate department of science would make a big difference to the esteem of science is naive. A seat in the cabinet has not saved the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food from a long-term decline in reputation and influence. Anyway, the pattern of departmental portfolios is as much decided by political exigency as any fine calculation of policy priority.

So science will have to find its place in larger departments. But the Department of Trade and Industry is not the only option. Now that at last we have a Ministry of Culture, we could recognise science as essentially a cultural activity undertaken principally for its own sake but, like art, sport and conservation, one that also infuses major modern business sectors such as the media and tourism. And there is a long tradition of government having an arm's-length relationship with such activities through intermediary bodies like the Arts Council. It could be an arrangement that suits science.

William Solesbury William Solesbury and Associates Research Management Consultancy London SW6

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