EU Referendum: The Case for Science

The 23rd of June is getting closer and if I had a penny every time someone felt inspired by the Clash tune to write: “should we stay or should we go?” in an article I would be rich enough to start my own campaign!

Amidst all the political squabbles, how will science fare if we were to leave? In this early edition of my blog, I provide a brief summary of the main points for the case of science.


1) Being the EU allows boosts international collaboration but is not the primary driving force behind it.

Researchers move primarily to collaborate, develop careers and build networks. They hope to work with the best, pooling resources, to access state of the art of the equipment and to tackle global challenges. For instance, the Higgs Boson was discovered because computer power was provided from 170 centres across 42 countries. Not all international collaboration is a result of being an EU member, but it does support it – Royal Society.

International collaboration has risen from 15% in 1981 to 50% today as seen from co-authored papers and it is these papers that have a high citation impact than domestic only papers. Almost all growth in the UK is a result of these collaborations and it is participation in the EU science programmes that have contributed to this – London School of Economics and Political Science


2) By remaining in the EU, this enables Britain to attract foreign scientists.

Of the UK university workforce, 28% are non-UK nationals, of this 16% are non-UK but have come from within the EU and 12% are from outside the EU. Of the PhD students, 14% are non-UK but within the EU and 36% are from outside the EU. Currently, EU nationals have the freedom to move without visas and work permits. Should we leave it is possible that travel visa restrictions and added bureaucracy might affect researchers moving here. But this comes with consideration: it is not the only factor that might affect mobility and non-member states have different agreements on mobility as well. It must also be noted that being part of the EU may not necessarily be the reason why foreign scientists have moved here- Royal Society.


3) Staying in the EU means we get a considerable amount of funding for science.  

This is the big game- changer that certainly tips the scales in favour of remain.

The UK is a net contributor meaning that it contributes more than it receives. We are actually one of the largest recipients of research funding within the EU (Royal Society). Between 2007- 2013, the UK contributed £22.8 billion more than it received. This would make the case for the Vote: Leave campaign arguing that this money can be saved and put elsewhere, such as the NHS. BUT when it comes to specifically research we are receiving more from the EU than we are giving, so actually we benefit from EU membership. Daniel Hook of Digital Science has said that if we were to leave we would not be able to take out more money just for our research programmes (Times Higher Education). Additionally, different organisations have modelled what would happen if we were to leave. Both the Centre for Economic Performance and the think tank Open Europe calculated that in the short term gross domestic product (GDP) would decrease, therefore we would end up losing money instead (London School of Economics and Political Science).

So can we be a non-member state and still get funding?

Well yes, but it is not a brilliant strategy at all. Norway and Sweden for instance have associate memberships and still get funding. But Norway just so happens to be a slight net loser when it comes to EU funding (Times Higher Education). Sweden had access to the Framework Programme (FP7) but they are not part of Horizon 2020 because of their mobility restrictions. If we wanted to continue to participate in Horizon 2020 even if we left, we would still have to pay, it would be conditional and we would not be able to have any say in the allocation of funding nor in the development of science programmes.


4) Policies and directives set by the EU stay in place with regards to subject area if we remain

I’m quite interested in the environmental policies. There is a lot of legislation that has come from the EU: The Nature Directives, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The environment has been well protected because of these directives and policies and leaving the EU would mean leaving them behind.  With the CAP gone (that provided regulations and subsidy for farming) this would impact agriculture and with the CFP gone the government would have to take responsibility for the fisheries (British Ecological Society). If ecology is your thing, then check out this page to find out more. Of course however there are those for Brexit that argue against these directives, such as George Eustice (The Guardian), which the original author of the EU environmental legislation Stanley Johnson was quite shocked by.

Are any of you clinicians? Because the Clinicians Trial Directive could be out of the window should we leave as well. Those for “out” claim that it hampers research making it expensive while those for “remain” say these make procedures more robust and that it is better to have one regime to measure against rather than the 27 other regimes, should be leave (BBC Breakfast).


And finally:

There is an overwhelming majority of scientists that don’t want to leave the EU. Even the media are all reporting that a Brexit would be bad for science (The Independent, The Telegraph). Overall the picture for science that is painted is one strongly in favour of Remain (Nature, EPC-CaSE Report, Euro Scientist).

Check out both campaigns: Science for EU and Scientists for Britain and don’t forget to check out the facts for yourself on other (non-science) issues: Better Referendum (which I absolutely recommend, I attended one of their sessions and it was a great debate) and Full Facts.


Danae Dodge

I received my PhD in Scientific Archaeology from the University of Sheffield in 2011 which specialised in ancient DNA and anthropology. For my profile, see my websites: I started getting involved in Science Brainwaves as a volunteer in 2010. I have volunteered at presentations, events (such as the British Science Festival in 2011) and even participated in the Science is Vital protest march in October 2010. My first blog for Science Brainwaves was "Ancient Humans: Who were they? And who got it on?" which was the written version of a talk I gave for the Natural History Society at the University of Sheffield on 5 December 2011. I also have a public engagement page dedicated to ancient DNA, which I encourage both the public and specialists to join: