Stephen Hawking and 150 other distinguished scientists – all fellows of the Royal Society – have written a letter to the (London) Times saying that if Britain leaves the European Union it would be a “disaster for UK science.”
No it wouldn’t.
Only 3 per cent of science R & D funding in Britain comes from the European Union. And it’s not as though we should be grateful for this sop: not when you consider that Britain puts far more into the EU than it gets back in return. If we were out, we could decide for ourselves how much we want to spend on science – and on which projects – rather than having a bunch of incompetent foreigners decide for us.
When I say “a bunch of incompetent foreigners” I mean just that. Look at the example of the EU’s flagship GPS project in which 28 states have come together in peace and unity and utter pointlessness to spunk Euros 13 billion of taxpayers’ money on a satellite navigation programme that no one actually needs any more because there’s a perfectly good one available already.
Is that the kind of science project we’d tragically miss out on if Britain were to quit the EU? Thirteen years delayed, three times overbudget and the space age equivalent of a chocolate ashtray? If so, I can’t say I’m going to be weeping too many bitter tears for the scientists we would have paid for to do that particular job.
Oh but what about CERN? Imagine! If it hadn’t been for the EU we might never have discovered the Higgs Boson…
Another of the myths being put about is that leaving the political structures of the EU will affect our participation in the CERN project – the European Organisation for Nuclear Research and home of the Large Hadron Collider. This is simply not true. CERN is an international collaboration of many countries, including many non-EU nations. The UK were founding members of the project back in 1954, and are currently CERN’s third largest contributor. The official status of the EU in respect to CERN is that of an OBSERVER, along with UNESCO, Russia, India, Japan and the USA.
Freedom of movement for scientists then. Think of all the brilliant researchers who’d be denied entry to Britain…
Gosh, I’m not half enjoying all the horror stories American Conservatives are using to try to sabotage President Obama’s plans for universal healthcare. I particularly like the one about the Death Committee (do they mean NICE?) which sits to decide whether or not our elderly are to get life-saving treatment. But I fear the one about Stephen Hawking was pushing it a bit.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the Land of Freedom needs NHS-style universal healthcare like it needs an Ebola pandemic or Al Gore. But if you’re going to fight a propaganda war, I do think it’s important not to give ammunition to the other side. Choosing Stephen Hawking as your poster boy to ‘prove’ that President Obama’s healthcare proposals will be a disaster is probably not a good idea when a) he’s one of Obama’s “deep” admirers and is about to get feted by him at an award ceremony and b) when what you claim about him isn’t actually true.
No of course – contrary to the claim in a US business magazine – Professor Hawking wouldn’t have been allowed to die by the NHS if he had been British. We know this because he is, er, British and was being treated by the NHS for his Motor Neurone Disease long before he got famous writing the world’s most unread bestseller and became easily rich enough to afford private.
But I’m still not sure what this proves. The fact that Professor Hawking was not left to die by the NHS seems to me in no wise to demonstrate that our stagnant, creaky, wasteful system is not ripe for an overhaul. In one of the parallel universes possibly envisioned in his Brief History Of Time (don’t know: never read it; I’ve done War And Peace, though, which is a corker), it is quite possible that one Britain is running a much cheaper and infinitely more effective, Dan-Hannan-approved Singapore style health system; and that another Britain is abrim with splendid, clean, MRSA-free hospitals run by stern, buxom matrons and paid for by philanthropists who can afford to do so because of the splendidly low tax regime of a prime minister who very obviously isn’t Dave Cameron.