26 September 2023

Rejoining the EU’s Horizon programme will stifle British science

By Professor Angus Dalgleish

Much jubilation has ensued following the Prime Minister’s announcement that the UK is rejoining the European Union Horizon science programme. Many of my colleagues are extremely relieved that they can at last apply for the fat grants which make careers and reputations for those lucky enough to get them.

Heads of large scientific organisations and institutes lobbied extremely hard for us to rejoin this programme – implying scientific disaster if we were left out in the cold. They claimed the fact that the UK scored more in grants than we contributed was evidence that membership was a necessity.

However, given that eight of the top ten research universities in Europe are in the UK, it would be very strange if we did not do well in such a competition.

Yet the fact that the UK does very badly from the infrastructure fund is always overlooked, presumably because it casts doubt on the merits of the positive ‘win’ on the peer reviewed grant aspects.

Horizon has numerous restrictions, like having to include collaborators from countries which would not normally be natural bedfellows if not for the Horizon structure. In being so Eurocentric it misses the opportunity to collaborate with long standing allies in non-EU countries such as the US, Asia and Japan. It should be remembered that Horizon has accepted non-EU countries for many years, including Israel and Switzerland.

A major concern that I have had for many years is the enormous and bloated administration costs associated with the scheme. I have experienced these at first hand having been a peer reviewer on large multi-country applications that took up to a week at a time in Brussels to review. In my case I was staggered to find that all our input appeared to be window dressing to give credence to the political machinations that had already determined which grants would get support. I complained strongly that good applications from excellent groups were being sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Unsurprisingly, I have not been asked to review again.

That’s why I cannot join my colleagues in celebrating rejoining this organisation. In our absence it has become even more political in its operation with a loss of scientific freedom for its members and a drift to funding political correctness and non-acceptance of subjects deemed counter to the EU policies. There is obviously a real risk that UK originated projects will receive short shrift if they are contrary to the new politically correct scientific consensus on issues such as gene editing, for example.

The Covid pandemic has revealed that a herd mentality is a very real threat to science, and has translated to out and out censorship. For instance, when my Norwegian colleagues Birger Sorensen and Andreas Susrud and I pointed out that the virus had all the hallmarks of being genetically altered along the lines already published by scientists in the Wuhan laboratory, and had entered the human population supremely adapted to human infection strongly counter-indicating a natural zoonotic jump from bat to man, our observations were rejected by every journal including Nature, Science and The Lancet.

The rejections were too quick to be peer reviewed and labelled not in the public interest. We now know that a cabal consensus was agreed among the scientific elite to silence what has turned out to be the agreed view of many agencies who have bothered to look at the evidence in detail. The refusal to look at the evidence and openly debate it has ushered in the era of what I have termed ‘the death of science’. It has only been made possible by the rise of enormously powerful funding organisations which assess information on a political, not a scientific level.

It does not stop at biology either. Environmental science has been completely hijacked by the political elite to support the ludicrous NetZero agenda, whose only outcome will be to permanently impoverish a large proportion of the world’s population. It’s well-known in the academic community that Nature will accept any paper that peddles an alarmist narrative about climate change while rejecting anything that challenges it. Even Nobel prize-winners have been silenced and ridiculed for questioning the climate consensus.

For evidence that bigger doesn’t always mean better when it comes to scientific research, consider the WHO, which praised China’s handling of the pandemic. Along with big organisations like the National Institutes for Health, it has consistently failed to back an effective HIV vaccine – Vacc-4x by the Norwegian Bionor/Immunor groups – despite it showing better clinical results than other treatments. This should be a red flag to anyone who thinks large funding organisations are good at supporting innovation.

The Prime Minister boasts that he wants Britain to be a ‘science superpower’. Rejoining Horizon is a step in the opposite direction – backwards in terms of scientific progress, and back towards political control by the EU.

Click here to subscribe to our daily briefing – the best pieces from CapX and across the web.

CapX depends on the generosity of its readers. If you value what we do, please consider making a donation.

Professor Angus Dalgleish is a Fellow at the Centre for Brexit Policy.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.