Unscientific scientists at Cambridge

A group of  Cambridge academics wrote to the Daily Telegraph on or around June 1st, putting forward, as they thought, their case for remaining in the EU.  Actually, it was more than a group as there were well over 500 signatories, which included about 200 professors, a handful of doctors, and the rest without titles were presumably students since academics love to flaunt their handles.  As I thought the letter merely showed self-interest, ignorance and selective statistics (not what one expects from people presumably trained in the scientific method), I penned a reply to the DT.  Of course, my reply never got published so I give here the original Cambridge letter (without the hundreds of signatures) and my response.

It does seem these days that the only way a view contrary to the Establishment can be published is if one does it oneself via a blog such as this.  I have also been “moderated” off numerous forums because I have inconvenient arguments.  We have free speech, of course.  We keep telling ourselves this, but all I see are more and more views being proscribed.  Ah, Brave New Union!

Here is the Cambridge letter:

SIR – As senior members of Cambridge University, writing in our personal capacities, we wish to express our grave concern for the future of our universities and country if Britain votes to leave the EU. 

British universities are among the most successful centres of learning and research in the world. They are significantly helped in this by funding from the EU. In the sciences, we have 22 per cent of European Research Council grant-holders, with only 12 per cent of the EU’s total population. In the arts and humanities, around 30 per cent of major interdisciplinary projects at Cambridge would be at risk without EU backing. The Government would not be able to replace this scale of funding if we voted to leave. 

Our young people gain hugely from access to EU scholarships. The exchange of ideas and the stimulation of collaboration that comes from the free movement of academics within Europe are critical to research quality. Increasingly, research depends on collaborative access to larger networks and populations than Britain can provide.

The major issues of our time – in security, energy, environmental sustainability, health and the globalised economy – take no account of national borders. With the rise of academic centres in America and Asia, we will only maintain our foremost position in research and innovation if we combine our research resources within a reformed EU. Our future economic growth depends on it.

My response was:

Sir,

The letter from Cambridge academics, a motley collection of professors and students it appears, illustrates why political decisions should never be in the hands of self-styled intellectuals. They say that the Sciences  have received 22 per cent of the European Research Council funding despite the UK only having 12 per cent of the population. Well, some one in the UK is suffering because according to EU data, the UK received 12 per cent of research funding for 13 per cent of the EU population (2013 data).  More to the point would have been an indication of what proportion of their funding comes from the EU – quite small, I suspect.  I thought scientists were supposed to use data objectively, and not single out one comparison to support their preconceived opinion.

And is their research really at risk from the UK leaving the EU?  The amount of research funding that UK institutions receive from the EU is just 6 per cent of what the UK pays to the EU after the rebate.  Leaving the EU would allow these research constitutions to continue with the same level of funding (assuming that what they do is justified by the results). But perhaps that is the real issue.  It is not the level of funding, but the fact that relatively easy funding via the Brussels machine might be replaced by more discerning assessments of scientific and social value.

Their second point about international collaboration is a complete red herring.  Do these scientists not follow the scientific method?  International collaboration does not depend upon the existence or membership of the EU.  How on earth do American, Canadian, Australian, Japanese or any other non-EU academics collaborate?  Perhaps out of their EU oystershell these academics might develop a more rewarding world view.  Their present myopia is hardly suggestive of the academic excellence that one used to associate with their current institution

Yours etc

Now how can I get the brilliant minds at Cambridge to read this?

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