Share the spending power

Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association

UCL, one of the UK’s biggest and most prestigious universities, is asking the public to crowdfund their research. So far they’ve raised just over 5% of their £1million target (16 May 2017). They want to use the funding to build a laboratory that will improve forensic science by finding new crime-solving techniques. Pledge £10 and they’ll send you a postcard; pledge £0.5mill and they’ll name the lab after you. If tackling crime isn’t your thing, you can donate to research on elephants, explosives or the Great Barrier Reef instead.

Nothing wrong with that of course – why shouldn’t we be able to donate our hard-earned money to whatever research we want? But, what if that’s not enough?

The UK government currently spends about £5billion per year of taxpayers’ money on science and research. Groups of researchers decide which ideas deserve to get this money. This makes sense up to a point, since specialists will know which ideas are likely to have the most impact. But since the money belongs to all of us, could the rest of us have more of a say?

I would like to see members of the public joining groups of researchers to choose which research to invest in. This happens in many medical research charities already such as Muscular Dystrophy UK. Members of the public already influence the work of expert organisations such as the Royal College of Surgeons. There is plenty of learning to draw on.

It’s time for the public to be invited to join the decision-making on research funding.

(Although, if you have a spare £0.5million in your pocket, you can still have a lab with your name on it).

Katherine Mathieson is Chief Executive at the British Science Association (BSA) which believes that science should be a more fundamental part of culture and society. The BSA runs a range of programmes for public and professional audiences aimed at changing their relationship with science, and also conducts research & campaigning on the relationship between science and culture. Katherine has previously worked at Nesta, the Forensic Science Service, Science Line and Merck. Katherine has Masters degrees in Natural Sciences and Science Communication, and Postgraduate Diplomas in Information Science and Voluntary Sector Management. She is a Brownie leader and a Trustee of the Royal Commonwealth Society.

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