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September 09, 2010

Flip flopping at the IChemE

The Institute of Chemical Engineering appears to have had a curious change of heart in the wake of yesterday’s gloomy speech from Vince Cable.

The organisation has responded to the news that the science budget faces cuts by saying that the search for the Higgs Boson should be put on ice.

In a statement released yesterday, Andy Furlong, head of policy at the IChemE said the following:

"Innovative process engineering is central to the quest for solutions and it's important that spending should be directed towards these areas. The UK is well placed to secure a competitive advantage in emerging fields with attractive revenue generating potential, such as industrial biotechnology. Curiosity driven scientific research remains important and pure science has enjoyed a real boost over the last decade. But the financial crisis has changed the game and a shift of focus is needed. As ever, the devil is in the detail and we look forward to assisting government with the development of its plans. But for now at least the search for the Higgs Boson may have to wait.”

It’s not so long ago that the IChemE wrote a joint letter with the Institute of Physics to Research Fortnight saying pretty much the opposite. The two were responding to the Royal Academy of Engineering’s suggestion that money should be pulled from particle physics to support near-market research:

“We recognise that in the current economic background there needs to be a strong focus on value for money in all government expenditure, but this must recognise the synergy between basic science and the translation or innovation capability. There does need to be an emphasis on application (which emphatically does not necessarily mean just short-term application) as a reflection of economic need, but not at the expenses of undermining the science base.”

So what has prompted this u-turn? The IChemE say that they don’t want to see an “ugly scrap” over funding. But you might say that this is exactly how you start one.

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