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British Scientists Holding Out Their Hats

With less than a week to go before the U.K. budget announcement for 2009–10, prominent researchers are still pressuring the government to inject cash for science as part of a U.S.-style stimulus package. Last month, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills was trying to persuade the treasury to put up £1 billion for research. That idea seemed to be squashed days later when Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, warned a parliamentary committee that further stimulus packages could damage the economy by increasing government debt. But Martin Rees and others have subsequently spoken out.

Senior figures in science kept up the fight this week. Yesterday, epidemiologist Roy Anderson, rector of Imperial College London, said:

Mervyn King's announcement of course was not the best news for science when [we] were just trying to persuade senior ministers that this is a real opportunity to the British economy. I can understand his caution, however I'd still argue with him that in essence how are we going to position the UK economy coming out of the recession? I'd argue that science and technology is one of our few options and it's a good time to provide that stimulus.

Then Martin Rees, U.K. Astronomer Royal and president of the Royal Society, said: "In his budget, the chancellor has the opportunity to send a powerful signal that Britain intends to remain successful by staying at the cutting edge. He can't afford not to."

Media reports suggest that a big handout from the government is unlikely, but with a few days to go till budget day, science's great and good are making sure that research is at the forefront of the chancellor's mind.