Military has too much influence over science and technology, says new report

Press release, 19 January 2005
 

A groundbreaking new report by Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR), detailing the pervasive military presence within science and technology in the UK, will be launched at Parliament on 19 January 2005.

The report examines developments from the end of the Cold War to the ‘War on Terror’ and demonstrates that the military still has considerable influence over science and technology. A full 30% of all public spending on R&D in the UK is funded by the Ministry of Defence, dwarfing that spent by, eg, the National Health Service. A new generation of multi-million pound military partnerships has been developed involving UK universities, and these groups pursue high technology, largely weapons-based research in a climate of commercialisation and secrecy.

The report details four case studies on: new nuclear weapons; nanotechnology; biological sciences; and the ‘Missile Defense’ programme. These show that much military science and technology helps to narrow thinking on security issues, focusing on the use of military technology while marginalising attempts to understand and tackle the roots of conflict. The report argues that more balanced funding of science and technology, which would include more resources directed towards solving global environmental and social problems (eg climate change, clean water and sanitation, resource depletion), would have greater benefits, including in terms of global security.

This report is particularly timely. The UK government has recently announced plans to boost spending on a high-technology military over the next five years, while US spending on military objectives is soaring. Meanwhile political controversy on military issues (eg UK involvement in the Iraq war, the international arms trade) and science issues (eg GM crops, the power of vested interests) continues to rage.

Dr Chris Langley, author of the report, points out that: "Today the military sector plays a disproportionate role in setting the research agenda for science and engineering. Yet we face a whole variety of security threats which are not addressed by current military thinking which is out-dated and reminiscent of the Cold War."

Professor Steven Rose, a speaker at the launch, added: "Ever since 1945, and under Tory and Labour governments, Britain has spent disproportionately more of its research and development budget on military technology than any other European country - a huge waste of scientific resource. Will it ever change? SGR's new report argues that it is both possible and desirable. Is it too much to hope that the next election might bring to power a government committed to redirecting science away from the military?"

Dr Philip Webber, Chair of Scientists for Global Responsibility, said that: "The report reveals a new military-industrial complex of the 21st century – military-led funding of exotic technologies and hi-tech weaponry rather than technology to address pressing social and human needs. This situation can only lead to greater long-term insecurity and needs to be challenged."

Notes for editors

  1. SGR is a UK organisation of approximately 600 scientists and technologists promoting ethical science and technology - based on the principles of openness, accountability, peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability. For more information see http://www.sgr.org.uk/
  2. The report is entitled Soldiers in the Laboratory: military involvement in science and technology – and some alternatives and written by Chris Langley, and edited by Stuart Parkinson and Philip Webber.
  3. Copies of the executive summary and the full report can be ordered from the SGR office or downloaded from the SGR website.
  4. The launch took place in Committee Room 7, Houses of Parliament, Westminster, on 19th January. Speakers and included Dr Ian Gibson (Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology), Dr Chris Langley and Prof Steven Rose (see below).
  5. Brief background of the people quoted in the press release:
     
  6. Dr Chris Langley is author of the report, and has more than twenty years' experience in science policy and the communication of science and medicine.

Dr Philip Webber is Chair of Scientists for Global Responsibility and co-editor of the report. He has written widely on military and ethical issues in relation to science and technology, including the book London After The Bomb.

Prof Steven Rose of the Dept of Biological Sciences, Open University has written widely on science issues, including its relationship with the military.