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Blair: science is not just for boffins

PM says Brits must stand up for science

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Tony Blair is set to deliver a speech in Oxford today calling for Brits to "stand up for science", in a bid to make scientific careers more attractive to young people.

He says although kids are interested in science, they only see it as leading to a career as a boffin, rather than as a way into corporate life.

He will point to the increases in funding for science since Labour took office as evidence of his government's commitment to the disciplines, the BBC reports. He will also reiterate that a strong science base is fundamental to the economic success of the country.

The speech is just one in a series outlining the Blair-vision of the future.

He told The Guardian: "We've got to understand the importance of science to the future of the economy and to the future of society. In my view, for the next generation, development of science is as important as economic stability for future prosperity."

He said failure to engage in rational debate was behind scientists being blamed for the BSE crisis, and contributed to the scare over the MMR vaccine.

Having a scientifically literate population would be vital, he explained, for the public to understand and debate complex issues such as genetic modification.

His remarks will inevitably attract criticism, set as they are against a background of falling numbers of science students, closing science departments, and a dearth of good science teachers.

Speaking to the BBC, Liberal Democrat science spokesman Evan Harris summed up the situation, as he sees it:

"An A-grade on funding has been thrown away by the prime minister by the squeeze on university science departments, causing several to close. A crisis in science teacher recruitment has led to a dearth of good applicants taking hard science at A-level and at university, reinforcing the shortage of good graduates to teach in schools." ®

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