Letter: National Science Week: was it empty rhetoric or a cause for celebration?

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The Independent Online
Sir: It may be National Science Week, but there is little cause for celebration at the scientific research agencies of the Department of Trade and Industry. The department continues to cut expenditure on scientific research and the threat of privatisation or closure is hanging over the National Physical Laboratory, the Laboratory of the Government Chemists, the National Weights and Measures Laboratory, and the National Engineering Laboratory. The DTI's fifth laboratory, Warren Spring, is due to close next week with a loss of 200 jobs in environmental science.

William Waldegrave's science White Paper has initiated a further review of government research establishments, concentrating on privatisation and rationalisation, with the aim of reducing government expenditure rather than increasing the effectiveness of British science.

Ministers seem to have little understanding of the worth of scientific research. They do not appear to appreciate that the accumulated knowledge of the workforce, properly utilised, is of far greater benefit to the nation than the immediate realisation of assets such as buildings and land.

Government research laboratories were set up to conduct research for the public good which would not otherwise be carried out by industry or universities. This research - for example, in measurement, safety and environmental standards - is more important than ever, due to the increasingly technical complexity of life and the increasing need for global harmonisation. Until the Government reverses its policy of cutting research funding, and gives up its dogma of privatising its laboratories, the science community will see Mr Waldegrave's enthusiasm for initiatives such as National Science Week as empty rhetoric.

Yours sincerely,

ANTHONY MANSFIELD

Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists

National Physical Laboratory

Teddington, Middlesex

25 March

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