Science Holds the Key to UnlockingEconomic Success
James Phillips and Matthew Phillips 詹姆斯·菲利普斯 马修·菲利普斯
The 2008 crisis should have led us to reshape how our economy works. But a decade on， what has really changed？ The public knows that the same attitude that got us into the previous economic crisis will not bring us long-term prosperity，yet there is little vision from our leaders of what the future should look like. Our politicians are sleeping， yet have no dreams. To solve this， we must change emphasis from creating “growth” to creating the future: the former is an inevitable product of the latter.
Britain used to create the future， and we must return to this role by turning to scientists and engineers. Science defined the last century by creating new industries. It will define this century too: robotics， clean energy， artificial intelligence， cures for disease and other unexpected advances lie in wait. The country that gives birth to these industries will lead the world， and yet we seem incapable of action.
So how can we create new industries quickly？ A clue lies in a small number of institutes that produced a strikingly large number of key advances. Bell Labs produced much of the technology underlying computing. The Palo Alto Research Centre did the same for the internet. There are simple rules of thumb about how great science arises， embodied in such institutes. They provided ambitious long-term funding to scientists， avoided unnecessary bureaucracy and chased high-risk， high-reward projects.
Today， scientists spend much of their time completing paperwork. A culture of endless accountability has arisen out of a fear of misspending a single pound.
Scientists on the cusp of great breakthroughs can be slowed by years mired in review boards and waiting on a decision from on high. Their discoveries are thus made， and capitalised on， elsewhere. We waste money， miss patents， lose cures and drive talented scientists away to high-paid jobs. You don't cure cancer with paperwork. Rather than invigilate every single decision， we should do spot checks retrospectively， as is done with tax returns.
A similar risk aversion is present in the science funding process. Many scientists are forced to specify years in advance what they intend to do， and spend their time continually applying for very short， small grants. However， it is the unexpected， the failures and the accidental，which are the inevitable cost and source of fruit in the scientific pursuit. It takes time， it takes long-term thinking， it takes flexibility. Peter Higgs， Nobel laureate who predicted the Higgs Boson， says he wouldn't stand a chance of being funded today for lack of a track record. This leads scientists collectively to pursue incremental， low-risk， low-payoff work.
We should return to funding university departments more directly， allowing more rapid， situation-aware decision-making of the kind present in start-ups， and create a diversity of funding systems. This is how the best research facilities in history operated， yet we do not learn their key lesson: that science cannot be managed by central edict， but flourishes through independent inquiry.
In order to be the nation where new discoveries are made， we must take decisive steps to make the UK a magnet for talented young scientists.
However， a recent report on ensuring a successful UK research endeavour scarcely mentioned young scientists at all. An increased focus on this goal， alongside simple steps like long-term funding and guaranteed work visas for their spouses， would go a long way. In short， we should be to scientific innovation what we are to finance: a highly connected nerve centre for the global economy.
The political candidate that can leverage a pro-science platform to combine economic stimulus with the reality of economic pragmatism will transform the UK. We should lead the future by creating it.