The heated debate about who should decide how to spend research funds and what kind of research should be performed never ceases to be relevant. Is it the politicians, who don’t understand science but know how to rule a country, or is it researchers, who are dedicated to science but lack the broader view of a legislator, that have to decide which direction research should take?
In British research policy the answer seems very clear, apparently. UK, in fact, seems to strictly adhere to a principle, called the Haldane principle and named after Richard Burdon Haldane (1856-1928), labour politician, lawyer and philosopher, that defines a clear separation between politics and research. According to the Haldane principle politicians should have no say in research matters and researchers should be completely free to choose how to spend their money and which course their research should undertake.
In December 2014 the UK government published a new Science and Innovation Strategy that reaffirmed an adherence to the Haldane Principle. However, this document has generated a good amount of critiques, since it is formulated in such a way that made some people worry that an attempt was being made to redefine the principle, in order to allow more direct intervention in science funding decisions by politicians.
These concerns seemed to be confirmed by a recent interview to Greg Clark, UK minister for universities, science and cities, who declared that “science budget must be allocated very strictly according to Haldane (…) but that is not the only source of government funding that is available. Haldane must not be a prison that keeps scientific research budgets unable to access what might be substantial sums of money elsewhere”.
These controversial words have kept UK researchers wondering about their true meaning. Is it the beginning of a new era in which the government will claim the right to set strategic directions and priorities for spending science government funds? Only time will tell.