British scientists are living under a "climate of fear", reluctant to criticise the Government because they might lose their research grants, it was claimed yesterday.
Dr John Mulvey, a former sub-nuclear physicist at Oxford University, launched his attack on the eve of the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Newcastle.
Dr Mulvey warned that core research in science and engineering faces a pounds 151m cut over the next two years, despite a promise by the Government to spend an additional pounds 40m.
The Medical Research Council, which channels public money to scientists, has been able to fund fewer than one in three of those research projects it considers to be of top-ranking quality.
The Biological Science Research Council, which funds research basic to the biotechnology industry, can fund only one in five of the top projects submitted to it. But working scientists are reluctant to publicise the problem, Dr Mulvey - who is one of the founders of the Save British Science Society - said, "because they fear that if they complain they will not get money. We know of cases where heads of university departments have expressed reluctance to come out in public."
Dr Mulvey said that "a casino culture now decides the advance of science and medicine".
Scientists were already concerned about government policy towards research following Mr Major's decision to make science the responsibility of a junior minister in the Department of Trade and Industry rather than a Cabinet level minister as had been the case.
Significantly, the only government presence at the annual meeting is that of the junior DTI minister Ian Taylor, who is making the briefest of appearances. Ironically, the theme of the British Association's week- long meeting is "discovery and invention", intended to underscore the importance of science and engineering research to the national wealth creating industries.
The Festival of Science, which lasts until 15 September, is expected to attract more than 10,000 people to a series of lectures, talks and "hands-on" demonstrations of interactive science. About 2,000 children and parents attended the "family day" events yesterday, when the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, helped local children to get to grips with stargazing at the planetarium.