When is science not science?

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I was interested to read, via Lord Drayson’s twitter about the IAwards. These have been ‘Launched by the Government to recognise and celebrate the best of British science, innovation and technology’.

Great, I thought. SPIRE is a UK led instrument that is now doing great things on Herschel. We should try to get a nomination.

Then I saw the list of categories:

Life Sciences
Places to Live and Work Sponsored by Building Magazine
A Consumer Product
Best British Inside
Transport
Digital Communications Sponsored by businesszone.co.uk
Cross-application Of Technology Sponsored by Rolls Royce
Energy and Environment
Entertainment and Media Sponsored by The British Library
Best Collaboration
Best Technology Start-up Sponsored by Microsoft BizSpark
The Next Big Thing Sponsored by Siemens
iaward of the year Sponsored by QinetiQ

Which is rather more technology than science, frankly. And even the science areas (eg. Life Science) have significant restrictions on them: ‘This category is for innovation in any life sciences area which supports society in terms of healthcare and the national challenge of an ageing population.’

So this isn’t exactly looking for the ‘best of British science’ is it? In these terms Nobel Prize Winning British science of the past, clearly among the best of British science, would not be eligible eg. the structure of DNA, the discovery of pulsars, the discovery of fullerenes. I’m sure there are more examples.

This would seem to reflect both a serious misunderstanding of how science works – these awards are much more for technology applications than science – as well as a serious undervaluing of many areas of British science that have been and are still (in spite of funding cuts) still very successful.

If you agree with me you might like to tweet Lord Drayson about this. Meanwhile it looks as if SPIRE will have to look elsewhere for an award…

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