The facts that lead scientists to vote remain in the EU referendum.
There’s nothing scientists love more than hard, stone cold evidence. Sadly for Brexit campaigners, this is something they can’t provide us with. As a result, the science and technology community has been advocating for the UK to remain a member of the EU. The House of Lords alongside countless Nobel Prize winners are encouraging voters to stay. Members of the scientific community regularly argue and debate, but in this case their views are overwhelmingly one-sided. In fact, in a recent poll run by the journal Nature, a whopping 83% of scientists said that they would be voting to remain. Now that’s statistically significant.
Why should we take into account the views of scientists as a distinct group, you might ask? Why are they such special snowflakes? One of the most compelling reasons stems from the very nature of scientific study. To be successful in science, you must be sceptical whilst scrutinising statements and evaluating evidence. Outside work or university, sometimes this means you’re perceived as being a pedantic little shit, but other times it’s beneficial. These analytical habits can be very useful when trying to determine fact from fiction in political chatter. As well as this, it appears that those who work in science and technology have a lot to lose when it comes to this referendum. Why is this the case?
When you envisage a scientist, you might think of someone in a lab coat working away independently. In reality, we rarely work alone. Science is all about collaboration and is practically impossible to do well without some form of team-work. It’s about attending conferences to share research, and sourcing various materials from your colleagues across the globe. The EU is an amazing resource for scientific collaboration and it would be a significant blow to lose easy access to the wealth of universities, institutes and commercial labs at our fingertips. It’s true that not all contact would be severed, but with restricted movement around Europe, our research teams would be less diverse and suffer as a consequence. One example of a scheme that will be lost if we are to leave is the EU Marie Slodowska-Curie Mobility Fellowship ̶ a program that encourages talented EU scientists to come here and share their knowledge and expertise. Despite the rain, the UK is a desirable place to be from a scientific perspective, but we may lose our appeal should we leave.
As well as sharing ideas, the EU also share laws. For such a small country, we have an obnoxiously loud voice when it comes to policies. Whether it be how we fight against global warming, or the general consensus on the ethics of science, while we still remain, we still have a voice. If we were to part with the EU, we’d lose this stance of power when determining laws and policies, and simply become the equivalent of a fussy toddler having an unheard tantrum in the corner. Having said this, another benefit of the EU is to muffle Britain’s misguided voice. Not every policy the UK government tries to pass is necessarily good (I know, shocking right?). In 2014, the EU tried to pass strict regulations for fracking ̶ an environmentally damaging procedure ̶ which the UK defeated in 2015 by lobbying for gas firms to scrap environmental safety measures. Despite scientific evidence revealing the dangers of fracking, the UK government seem to be more focussed on the financial benefits than the environmental detriments. Leaving the EU would mean a re-negotiation of wildlife and environmental legislation, an area British governments seem determined to ignore all scientific warning in. The EU listen to their scientific voice, the UK seem ignorantly deaf.
As well as platforming the scientific voice, the EU also platform scientific research through financial support. Funding is a huge hurdle that every researching scientist will ultimately have to try to fling themselves over when seeking any sort of backing for their work. To conduct research we scientists need that dollar dollar (or euro euro, I suppose) and currently the UK are receiving a sizable portion of scientific funding (18.3% of total EU funding) from the EU due to being a member of the EU science programmes. The main Brexit argument is that the UK could still buy into this scientific programme without being members of the EU, following the example of non-EU countries like Norway and Israel. However, Brexit supporters seem to be ignoring the maths with this point. Between 2006 and 2015 the UK received £8 billion in research grants from the EU, and in the last decade the EU only gave out £3.5 billion of research funding to non-member states. It’s foolish and even reckless to just assume the UK could still receive efficient funds from the EU when negotiating from a non-membership stance.
We scientists follow facts, it’s how we’ve been trained. We gather evidence, we inspect our results, and we draw conclusions thusly. Looking at the evidence we’ve collated in this article, voting to remain in the EU is the safe and logical conclusion. The Brexit campaign relies on assumptions and gut responses, leading a country purely on this can result in disaster. The fact is, we don’t know if we’ll still receive enough funding for research after we’ve left, we don’t know if scientific collaboration will still be so easily possible, and we don’t know how this will affect Britain’s stance in the scientific community. With so many uncontrollable variables, it’s no wonder the majority of scientists are voting to remain.
[Michaela Barton – @lowkeypigeon]