Scientists hold protest over budget cuts

Scientists gather outside the Treasury in London to protest government cuts to science More than 20,000 have signed a petition against any funding cuts in the sector

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Hundreds of scientists have gathered outside the Treasury to protest against expected cuts to science funding.

The rally was organised by the Science is Vital campaign, whose petition calling for no cuts to funding has been signed by more than 20,000 people.

Speaking at the protest, the former head of the Medical Research Council, Professor Colin Blakemore, said cuts would be "disastrous".

The government says science spending must stand up to "economic scrutiny".

The protest comes in advance of the coalition government's first comprehensive spending review, due on 20 October.

All Whitehall departments - with the exception of Health and International Development - face budget reductions of up to 25% over four years as part of a £83bn cuts programme.

Prof Blakemore, who specialises in the development of the brain, said the £4bn science budget was "a lot of money, but very small compared with most competitors.

'Innovation'

"We should be asking ourselves why it is that the United States, Germany, France, Sweden, Singapore - countries that we have to compete with all around the world - are increasing their investment in science now.

A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest against proposed government spending cuts outside the Treasury in London Demonstrators were asked to wear science items such as a laboratory coat

"And the answer is obvious - because they see that science is the key to innovation. It's therefore the key to the economy for the future. To cut science now would really be disastrous," he said.

Dr Jenny Rohn, from the University of London, said cutting science would be "shooting ourselves in the foot".

"If you don't fund science, you're not fuelling the economy," she said.

The campaign is also supported by astronomer Sir Patrick Moore CBE.

Shadow business secretary John Denham said: "For two spending reviews Labour ring-fenced the science budget as a key investment in Britain's economic growth.

"The coalition government needs to demonstrate that they understand just how important both fundamental and applied research is to our future economic growth."

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said no details of proposed cuts to science funding were available in advance of the spending review.

But he added: "Public spending on science, just like everything else, has to stand up to rigorous economic scrutiny.

"In these austere times, the public should expect nothing less."

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