Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Scientists usually look down on anecdotal evidence — but for the past month, alarmed UK researchers have been grabbing at every anecdote they can find.
The reason: an urgent need to emphasize to politicians that UK science is already being damaged by Brexit, the country’s decision to leave the European Union. Because of uncertainty about the future, research leaders say, UK institutions that rely on EU funding are already seeing their staff dropped or demoted from planned collaborative EU grant applications, and top talent could already be leaving Britain.
“It’s a bit soon to tell whether this is really significant. The stories we are getting are in the tens, not in the hundreds or thousands,” Philip Nelson, chief executive of the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), told a House of Lords inquiry into the effects of Brexit on science on 19 July. “The extent to which this is a kneejerk reaction to the referendum is really hard to tell.”
Individual anecdotes of Brexit’s concrete impacts are emerging. Tom Dowling, a British geologist who returned to the United Kingdom in March after gaining his PhD at Lund University in Sweden, told Nature that he has just scrapped his application for a European research grant. He and his supervisor at Cambridge University felt that potential post-Brexit bias against British scientists meant that it “wasn’t worth continuing”. Dowling adds that he is now considering leaving the country and taking European citizenship.
And Chris Husbands, vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, told a House of Commons inquiry that his institution’s academics had been asked to withdraw from three collaborative projects funded by the EU’s …