Programme for Government

Our new coalition government has released full details of its five year programme. They’ve even produced a web site that contains all of the information (although currently it seems a little broken and is just presenting a page where you can download a PDF).

I thought it was worth digging into it a bit to see what the programme says about some of the issues that the skeptical/rationalist community are interested in.

Firstly, I looked for information about the provision of homeopathy and other “alternative medicine” on the NHS. Sadly, the relevant section of the report is silent on this issue so we don’t know yet whether or not the new government is in favour of spending public money on magic water. I should point out that my petition on this subject is still open – although the whole government petitions site is currently in limbo until the new government decides what to do with it.

Next I looked to see what the document said about faith schools. I found one mention. And it’s not good news. In the section on schools, it says:

We will work with faith groups to enable more faith schools

So that’s a bit of a worry. Of course it doesn’t say whether they’ll be spending public money on these schools. Hopefully this won’t mean more religious-run academies where children are taught that the Earth is 6,000 years old.

Finally, I stepped back and tried to find out what the programme had to say about levels of science and research funding. And at that point, I had a bit of a surprise. Take a look at the list of high-level categories listed on the right hand side of the web site. Do you notice any obvious omissions? Look carefully now.

There is no category that obviously covers science. I downloaded the PDF version of the document and searched for the word “science” thinking that I must have missed something obvious. The word appears in the document twice. The section on the environment says:

As part of a package of measures, we will introduce a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine tuberculosis.

And then the section on schools says:

We will seek to attract more top science and maths graduates to be teachers.

Searching for the word “research” fares a little better (four mentions) but they’re still rather specific and give no useful information on how the government feels about science and research spending in general. I find it astonishing that a document like this can find space to talk about badger control and completely avoid the bigger issues. Where is the commitment to levels of spending on science? Where is the discussion of the importance of science-led policy-making?

All in all, this document gives me no comfort at all. I strongly suspect that we’re heading for a rather irrational five years. I really hope I’m proved wrong.

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