One of the arguments used against Britain leaving the European Union (EU) — ‘Brexit’ — is that British science would suffer. The subsequent lack of collaboration with European scientists would, they say, weaken our research output and subsequent rate of innovations.
There is no more and no less collaboration between British and European research scientists because of the EU. The EU membership has never been a criterion for partaking in a project. It is very much to do with whether a team needs to collaborate, whether there are other teams in the same area of specialization wanting to collaborate with it, and whether sub-teams can pull in their own fair share of funding from their own governments and patrons.
Indeed, the largest collaborative science project in Europe — the Large Hadron Collider — incidentally the largest machine in the world — built near Geneva in Switzerland has been designed and commissioned by engineers and particle physicists from well over 100 universities all over the world.
As to our output of scientific papers and primary discoveries, there are no more productive countries in the world than Britain and Germany. With 90 Nobel Prizes each in Science subjects in the last century, we are five times more productive than America (230 Prizes) on a population basis.
While most northern European countries have a few notable research scientists, none of the others have anywhere the same numbers as Britain and Germany. And, if anything, this country, with increasing concentration of research in two growth areas — digital technology and genetics — probably has the edge for the time being.
No, one of the reasons why the EU is so desperate not to lose this country is, indeed, the accessibility of some of the greatest science in the world just 20 miles of water away.