2 Comments »Posted on Tuesday 21 July 2009 at 2:35 pm by Colin Stuart
In Science Policy

Regular Just a Theory readers will remember our coverage of the furore surrounding Lord Drayson’s new jobs following the cabinet reshuffle last month. In her (very good!) article on the subject Jess Bland alluded to a debate between me and Lord Drayson on Twitter.

Jacob has asked me to bring you up to date with the story since then.

To recap, back in June 2009, the current UK government had a cabinet re-shuffle. One of the consequences of this re-shuffle was that Lord Drayson became simultaneously Minister of State for Science and Minister of State for Defence.

It struck me that this was perhaps an appointment that needed to be questioned, not on the grounds of Drayson’s abilities, but firstly on the matter of science being so closely politically twinned with defence, but moreover, science having only a part-time minister.

To this end I asked the question on social networking site Twitter:

“Anyone else worried that science and defence are now inextricably politically linked? with @lorddrayson doing both jobs!?”

From there several of my colleagues joined a discussion which eventually drew in Lord Drayson himself. Dr Stuart Lowe, an astronomer at The University of Manchester, has kindly aggregated the debate so you can see a tweet by tweet account of what went on.

During this debate UK magazine Times Higher Education (THE) asked Lord Drayson, via Twitter, whether he would be interested in penning an opinion piece in their pages justifying his position and countering our concerns. He duly obliged and you can read his article here.

Having sparked the debate in the first place I was anxious that my objections to Lord Drayson’s appointment, and subsequent policy announcements regarding pure science research, were also put to the readers of THE. I sent a speculative tweet to the magazine and they gave me 700 words to argue my corner the following week.

Following the publication of that piece on 9th July Lord Drayson got in touch with me, again via Twitter, and this is what he had to say:

@skyponderer Fair & good points u make. How do we continue the conversation now? Want to invite me to a live debate? Or stay tweeting?

How could I refuse!? The chance to grapple with one of the cabinet is surely a chance not to be missed.

So that is the current state of the Drayson debate. THE have offered to host our debate and are currently in contact with Lord Drayson’s people to make it happen.

I am busy collecting people’s views on the subject as I am very keen to use this chance to be a mouthpiece for the views of a wider community. It is not everyday we get a chance to debate the science minister in person, so I have setup a way you can let me know what you think.

Read the background articles above and whether you agree with Lord Drayson, or you agree with me, or you disagree with both of us, please visit my website and you’ll find a form where you can tell me what you think. I will be picking the best comments and putting them to the Lord himself when the time comes!

In addition, I hope to syndicate the debate right here on Just a Theory so watch this space!


  1. 2 Comments

  2. I am always concerned when the military industrial complex gets too close to anything that matters. In this I heartily agree that combining defence procurement and science is something to be deeply concerned about.

    On the full-time minister for science question, I’m sympathetic to Drayson’s arguments. There’s no point in having a science minister with no clout. It is a political fact that science is too easy to side-track. If its not represented in the cabinet, it’s not represented. So if it’s a choice between a dedicated science minister outside the cabinet, and a science minister with other responsibilities inside the cabinet, I’d choose the later. The former is just window-dressing.

    Whether Drayson deserves to be that man, I don’t really think so. His performance on The Politics Show earlier this month (http://bit.ly/UvEf1) was poor.

    Jon Sopal asked Drayson why Britain should be spending so much on the space programme at a time when we are stretched in Afghanistan. Drayson’s response was to point out that the space programme makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of global climate, and that on this Britain has a responsibility to contribute.

    I don’t disagree with this answer, but it was a career politician’s answer (delivered as such).

    It didn’t suggest that he had any appreciation of why science – ANY science – is important. He doesn’t appreciate that the more you invest in pure, curiosity driven, fundamental science, the more money you make out of the unintended discoveries that inevitably result.

    Science isn’t a responsibility, it’s a cash cow!

    Obama gets this. Which is why every scientist in the US has seen their budgets increase.

    The British government completely doesn’t. Which is why every scientist in the UK has seen their budgets cut, and told to expect worse in the near future.

    And despite Drayson love of big things – from big cars to big nukes – this is not the same as the passion should be in the fibre of a science minister’s being. A passion for knowledge for the sake of knowledge. And an understanding that the pursuit of that knowledge makes us richer in every meaningful respect.

    Science isn’t responsibility, it’s blatant self-interest. And Drayson doesn’t get this.

    If I were you were to boil this down to a single question, it would be; “Can the UK afford to be spending as much as we do on pure scientific research?”

    His answer will tell you everything you need to know about where his heart is.

    By Ed Gerstner on Tuesday 21 July, 2009 at 3:47 pm

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  2. Tuesday 28 July, 2009: Twitted by skyponderer

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