On the whole, scientists are probably perceived as a relatively mild-mannered bunch. They chip away at the world’s problems, solving the great questions, many simply because of a love of research. Rarely do they throw their toys out of the pram.

Until now, that is. A storm has been brewing in the UK, and researchers have finally had enough. Fine, criticise peer review. Make research assessments an admin-filled nightmare. Pay them peanuts. But threaten to cut funding for science by as much as 25 per cent, and they ain’t going to sit back and take it.

The results of the government’s comprehensive spending review are due in less than two weeks, and government departments have been warned to prepare for significant budget cuts of up to a quarter.

The scientific seed of rebellion was planted when Jenny Rohn, a cell biologist at University College London, UK, wrote a blog post declaring war: ‘No more Doctor Nice Guy, no more hiding behind our work, no more just taking things lying down like we take everything else in our profession,’ she cried. ‘If they are going to bleed us dry, we might as well try to do something before it’s too late.’

A march on London was the only way forward. And lo and behold, by the power of social media, the Science is Vital campaign was born.

It’s interesting to think about whether the campaign would have built up such a head of steam so quickly had we been in this situation 10 years ago, before Twitter and Facebook had become the phenomena that they are. Thanks to the viral spread of news of the campaign, the petition launched by Science is Vital to try and persuade the government not to cut science funding has gathered over 20,000 signatories in a matter of weeks. Almost 2000 of those plan to be at the rally at Westminster tomorrow, brandishing placards and wearing their labcoats with pride.

While other countries inject ever more cash into research as a means of healing their economies in the long-term, science in the UK faces cuts tantamount to losing a limb. In a week when UK-funded research won two Nobel Prizes (see here and here), a question mark now hangs over whether Nobels will feature heavily in the UK scientific community’s future.

The problem is trying to convince those in power that this isn’t just a case of yet another interest group pleading to escape the axe. Cutting science funding simply doesn’t make economic sense – with the manufacturing industries largely bailing for cheaper economies, it’s our knowledge that is our capital here in the UK. If we start hacking at our ability to generate that knowledge, and the new (money-making) industries and businesses that stem from it, where do we go from there?

There will be those who say that cuts are inevitable; we just have to stand tall and learn to do more with less. But what would be achieved by sitting back and doing nothing? Precisely. Nothing. There’s everything to gain by lobbying parliament and fighting for every penny we can get from the Chancellor’s purse. It might not work, decisions might already have been made behind closed doors – but whatever happens, we won’t be going down without a fight.

Chemistry World will be reporting from the Science is Vital rally at Westminster on Saturday. If you’re going to be there, let us know by leaving a comment below or sending us a message on Twitter.

Anna Lewcock

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