This is the Scienceogram: our one-page précis of UK science spending.
It gives an overview of how investment in science compares to the size of the problems it’s seeking to solve. If you want more detail, check out the In depth pages
for further information.
The UK government spent £695 billion on our behalf last year. This is a mind-bogglingly enormous amount of cash and so, to try to make sense of government spending, we’ve divided it up into pounds per person per year. The government spends about £11,000 a year on behalf of each person in the UK. Big-ticket items include pensions and benefits, health, education and defence, and we spend £160—about 1.5%—on science.
Cancer kills nearly a third of us, and yet public spending on cancer research is less than £5 per person per year. Heart disease is responsible for 15% of deaths, and receives £1.30 per person per year, and stroke is responsible for another 10% and gets just 28 pence!
We spend around £2200 per capita fuelling our cars, homes and lifestyles, whilst spending around £10 per capita—less than 0.5%—looking into ways to make energy production cheaper and greener. Of this, we spend just £1.20 per person per year researching nuclear fusion: a source of near-infinite, clean energy. If we want fusion any time soon, it’s worth more than 0.05% of the energy budget.
Acquiring knowledge is an international, collaborative endeavour, and it’s only acquired if we try. It’s common to think of scientific breakthroughs as a number of years away, but it makes more sense to think of us as being a number of person-hours, or a certain investment, away from the next giant leap. When compared to other items of international spending, science looks very cheap…and those discoveries look tantalisingly close.