Britain is on the brink of losing its best scientific talent to foreign competition, the head of Britain’s best regarded science establishment has warned.
In an interview with The Times, Lord Rees of Ludlow, President of the Royal Society, said that the prospect of swingeing cuts to the science budget meant that universities would struggle to attract the best foreign researchers. British scientists were already being tempted by more generous grants available through stimulus packages in the United States, Canada and Germany.
The problem here is that science is a public good.
That is, the results, the output, is non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Having discovered something about the universe we inhabit you cannot stop other people either knowing or using that knowledge. This causes economic problems in that, if you can’t make a buck out of having found something out we generally assume that not enough people will go off and find things out.
So, because science is a public good we sibsidise it: this is the same basic calculation done about all public goods.#
However, you cannot then go around claiming that it’s important that the science must be done in the UK. For we’ve already agreed that it is a public good, that it is non-rivalrous and non-excludable. Whether the finding things out stuff is done in Germany, the US, or Japan, makes no difference. Things still get found out and we can all use this new knowledge.
The very argument that leads to there being a subsidy in the first place is exactly what tells us that we don’t need the science to be done in the UK…..thus arguing for subsidies to keep the science in the UK doesn’t work.