Yesterday the Scottish Government (i.e. the Scottish National Party (SNP) as they are in charge currently) launched their White Paper, promising to answer all the tough questions that a move to Scottish Independence might throw up. From what I've read of it and others have commented there is not a lot new in it other than wanting to give free child care (which they could do now), wanting to make any British citizen resident in Scotland a Scottish citizen automatically (err.. no offence, but no thanks) and wanting to make any born-Scot resident elsewhere in the UK a Scottish citizen (although they won't allow you a vote in the Referendum). Unfortunately as is predictable
the SNP appear to want to keep all the benefits of the Union while
thumbing their noses at it. That's hardly going to generate good feeling
from the rUK. The White Paper offers nothing new in terms of
Independence other than some policies which are better suited to a
General Election manifesto than a document as important as this. There
is no rigour to the document, no balancing of pros and cons. No realism. With apparently no sense of irony the White Paper was launched at the Glasgow Science Centre, a venue dedicated to the promotion of science, engineering and medicine. However university research in all these fields is under threat from a move to Independence.
my own profession of university research there is much concern about changes to funding under an independent Scotland. Not only is funding from (currently) UK-wide charities and philanthropic organisations under threat but State funding via the UK's Research Councils is also under threat. As is common with most discussions regarding Independence prior to yesterday the SNP could make no promises
about the future of research in this country and yet insisted on telling us all would be well. The White
Paper released yesterday was when they told us all would be fully
explained. Nothing was explained for those in my community. There were a handful of questions answered in Section 5 of the paper, but no detail, no numbers, no guarantees and no realistic plan to reassure our community and allow us to plan ahead. All we got
instead were repeats of the previous very woolly promises we had before.
reality for the research community in Scotland is that funding for
research will drop as it will be rebalanced across the rUK and Scotland upon
Independence. Currently Scottish Universities win (by fair competition)
more funding from UK-wide funding bodies than their population
proportion would otherwise entitle us to (about 13% of funding compared to 8% of population, higher at some universities...). This extra funding will be
unavailable to us if Scotland becomes Independent. At the same time that funding imbalance will be returned to rUK and available for use by universities there flipping the reversal of funding even further against Scotland's favour.
will result in a brain drain of academics and researchers to the rUK (count me in there),
further decreasing the quality and effectiveness of Scottish universities. The only solution the SNP have come
up with is not to guarantee funding levels will stay at current levels (hard to do when you are already giving away many things for free...), but that they will ask rUK to keep research funding as it is - i.e.
Scotland takes more back than it gives. Not only is this never going to
fly with the Research Councils but there would be an outcry from rUK
universities as they are deprived of funding that otherwise would go to
them. The idea of Research Councils effectively subsidising and sharing facilities with a foreign country will not gain much traction. We don't do it now. When we want to work with people in other countries we form collaborations with them and look for funding at an international level i.e. from Europe. Giving that the strength of Scottish Universities is a often mentioned plank in the SNP's arguments (check how many times they mention it in the White Paper for example) for an independent Scotland the effects of independence on that sector deserve consideration by us all. This so far isn't an area we are discussing much, but we need to be.
much as I love living in Scotland I need funding to keep me employed
and to keep facilities I use running. I and many other academics will
have to go where the funding is. With less available in
Scotland compared to the rUK guess where we will go?
some online conversations I have (dared) to voice my opinion in I've
been accused of selfishness for thinking about my own interests and thus
rejecting Independence. But I've not been convinced by anything else
I've heard to vote Yes. If I could be convinced we could have a more
just, better society that would never have all the crazy problems of
Westminster I would vote for it like a shot.
I've yet to be convinced that on balance an independent Scotland could
deliver this any more than when staying a part of the UK. And indeed on balance (with some
political change perhaps) we could do so much more as part of the
larger UK. As we have been doing for hundreds of years more.
I am very disinclined to have Scottish citizenship forced onto me
simply because I am doing a job here when Independence is declared. Scotland is great, a
fantastic country, but I am not a Scot!)
The new 'Scientist in Congregations Scotland' organisation is offering a grant scheme to churches in Scotland that want to build partnerships and opportunities between scientists in Churches and the ministers of those churches. It is a great idea and a real opportunity for churches to integrate science into their teaching and worship. If you know of a church or minister who might be interested, send the details on to them!
I'd probably quibble about the idea of God spontaneously creating an extra human couple amongst an existing population as it just seems to be a solution to allow a literal take on the first few chapters of Genesis which is not exactly a necessity. That's neither really here not there in the wider context of things though and this is a very good piece both in tone and content coming from someone who is not a scientist themselves which makes it all the more helpful.
Would be good to see more of this sort of writing in the evangelical wings of the Church.
Peter Enns has posted an interesting article on how Christians can (must?) reinterpret the Old Testament in the light of Christian belief. While this is not new knowledge it may seem both obvious and simultaneously suspect. However, he makes the very valid point that this is exactly what the New Testament writers such as Paul did. And the Jews before them as well.
And that it is okay to do so.
Which perhaps says something to those who will not adjust their Scriptural glasses in the face of the results of modern science, historical analysis or theological development. Arguably Christianity has already done this many times from its earliest beginnings. We can think of the integrating of many Ancient Greek philosophical ideas right through to the contemporary environmental and social justice emphasis. It is not only our emphasis but our reuse of Scripture that has changed and moulded according to its times. Indeed, you could argue that Scripture is only at its most purposeful when the use and interpretation of it is adjusted so that it not only speaks the language, priorities and culture of the time but so it changes that culture as well to better reflect the Kingdom of God.
Although there is a time and a place to defend a pre-existing truth, there is also a time and a place for new learning and understanding. Especially when that can bring us closer to greater truth than simply maintaining a 'historic' interpretation of Scripture (which many times is not as historic as we might think...) can do.
The way we interact with Scripture is not meant to be stagnant or simply as a reference book of 'right' question and 'correct' answers. Scripture is meant to interact dynamically with a world, people and creation that is continuously on a path of change and new beginnings.
We must grow more comfortable with loosening our theological grip without letting go of the particular truth of Scripture. At the end of the day we worship Jesus Christ, the one who the Scriptures and all are associated traditions, thinking and interpretations point us towards, not the guide posts along the way.
Apparently the science budget has escaped any of the UK government's latest round of cuts, by being promised a so called 'flat' spend on research. We are told that this is a good thing and to basically be grateful for it.
And yes, while it could be worse (i.e. we might have had deep cuts like in the last round when we also received a 'flat' spend that slashed the budget for scientific infrastructure), it is not exactly good news either. This is because not only does a flat budget actually loose value due to inflation, but we are also still being out competed in terms of research budget by pretty much all our competitors just at a time when in commercial terms we need to be at our most competitive.
Plus the government has again been hawking only the specific areas of research
they see as making them money back - such as synthetic biology (a very
young field still) and graphene (which is an awesome material, but very
far from widespread commercialisation). This is at a the cost of ignoring the rest of the scientific research that the UK currently excels at (in spite of funding cuts, government priorities and political meddling in the Research Councils).
Although we are in tough economic times and science funding cannot escape that, you should call this what it is - the best you can do, not "investment" or "maintenance" of the scientific budget. If we were being generous we could be described as treading water with today's announcement. In realistic terms though we are losing funding while every one else around us is actually moving ahead.
Science funding is a serious business which brings great benefits to the country and individuals. Not only is it important to the health of both people and the economy, but investment in it (without specific economic return or agenda) is also an expression of our intentions and viewpoint as a society on the world and our future.
To do science well requires a minimum critical mass of people and facilities. We've already taken several unhelpful hits to the wider science base in recent years and there is only so much more it can take. Without direct support the research base of the UK will crumble and we will find ourselves with nothing substantial left on which to rebuild for future generations.
I am a physicist currently working in biomedical research.
Firstly though and (hopefully) before all else I am a follower of Christ (commonly called a Christian).
I like fudge, roasts, good company, spiders and something else.
Warring, transforming robots are quite good fun too.