08:20 Thursday 12th November 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
DOTTY MCLEOD: The future of scientific research and invention in Cambridgeshire could suffer as a result of the Government funding freeze. This is the warning from former Cambridge Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert, who says companies like microchip designer ARM may have never got off the ground if it wasn’t for research investment in their early days. Government funding for science and research programmes has been frozen at £4.6 billion since 2010. Julian Huppert joins me now,. Morning Julian.
JULIAN HUPPERT: Morning Dotty. How are you?
DOTTY MCLEOD: Yes fine thank you. £4.6 billion does seem like quite a lot of money doesn’t it?
JULIAN HUPPERT: It is in some ways a lot of money. But it’s not as much as is needed if we’re going to make the advances in all areas of science and research, if we’re going to get the benefits we can get in medicine from being able to create new treatments, in physics, in computing. We have lots and lots of evidence that actually the country makes a profit from this investment. We get really good financial returns, as well as the social returns, and the advancement of knowledge for its own sake.
DOTTY MCLEOD: You know what though, we do get some pieces of research, and we talk about them on this programme. You know the other week we had this research into the vocal chords and the testicles of howler monkeys. There’s research out today from the University of Cambridge about the strength of the jaws of a cockroach. And I hear about this and I think well it’s a bit of fun, but what’s the actual point? Is it really worth the money?
JULIAN HUPPERT: Well one can come up with all sorts of examples, and some will be more useful than others. But let’s take just one example of the drug that’s been developed here, Humira, incredibly important to many people’s lives with arthritis. Selling about £12 billion a year for this brilliant drug developed just down the road on the Addenbrookes site. Those are the sorts of benefits that we get. When lasers were developed, people probably said that there’s this weird thing, you can make a shiny piece. Nobody knew how useful it was going to be. The evidence is clear. We do overall get a financial return, and we train people that help with productivity. We’ve seen productivity in the UK decline, just as we’ve seen the share of money spent on science and research being cut. So it’s really very short-sighted to take money away from this area.
DOTTY MCLEOD: But maybe focusing the amount of money is the answer. Maybe focusing it a little more in a bit more of a targeted way Julian. Do you think there is some scientific research going on in Britain that frankly we don’t need?
JULIAN HUPPERT: I think part of the problem is knowing in advance what is and isn’t going to be useful. And there are loads of examples where people started working on things they didn’t think were useful. When dna was first discovered, it was from a guy who was working on the components of pus. Nobody was very interested in this thing. We now know that dna is incredibly important. It makes a huge difference in everything we’re doing, and what we can understand about dna and genetics makes a difference to healthcare, it makes a difference in biotech and many other areas. You can’t always tell. And most research is well (unclear). We should let experts decide which projects should and shouldn’t be funded, and of course there are things which shouldn’t be funded and don’t get funded. But overall we massively, massively benefit from that money.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK Julian. Good to talk to you. Thank you very much. Julian Huppert there, who is the former Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge.