This year, on June 23, the United Kingdom will vote on whether to remain in the European Union (EU), or leave it. Although the effects on trade, the economy, immigration, politics, and sovereignty have all been heavily and aggressively debated in the media, the issue of the impact of a Brexit vote on UK science has barely registered in the public domain.
So what exactly do scientists, engineers, and academics in general think about the EU referendum? What benefits does the UK reap from being part of the EU, and what would happen if it left?
Let’s take a look.
The Central Hall of London’s Natural History Museum, a globally-acclaimed research institution. Gandolfo Cannatella/Shutterstock
The UK and continental Europe have been responsible for a plethora of truly revolutionary scientific progress. This corner of the pale blue dot has seen Einstein conjure up his theories of relativity, which were built upon the foundations set down by Newton before him. It is where volcanology was born, thanks to Pliny the Elder and Younger; it is where quantum mechanics was conceived; it is the very place where the theory of evolution was authored by both Darwin and Wallace.
“Interestingly, science is one of those areas where the UK both has a very individual heritage, but also one which is closely tied to Europe,” Imran Khan, head of the British Science Association – which is officially neutral in the debate – told IFLScience. Khan notes that the UK is “the inheritor of the pan-European scientific revolution that started with Galileo and Copernicus, and continental collaboration and competition has been a huge feature of British science for centuries.”
In the present, both the UK and the other EU member states have been working closely together to decipher the universe. The largest environmental satelli
te monitoring program ever devised – Copernicus – is just one large-scale, EU-funded example of this type of cooperation, but there are countless other EU-wide collaborations on natural and physical sciences, where funding and intelligence is continuously shared, also taking place.
Additionally, the EU has also been responsible for huge environmental protection directives that have improved the lives of people up and down the continent. The UK itself has cleaner air, cleaner coastlines and waterways, lead-free petrol, safer food, and stronger green space protection thanks to EU legislation.
Image in text: A breakdown of European Research Council (ERC) and European Commission (EC) funding awarded between 2006 and 2015 by country. The UK was second only to Germany. Digital Research Reports