No money? No problem

Scientists of Britain, it's time to stop whining. When the government did the figures, it realised something profound. We don't need funding - we've got the best brains in the world. The physicist Ernest Rutherford once said: "We haven't the money, so we've got to think." And he won a Nobel prize.

We could stand to learn a lesson from the great Soviet physicists, too. Weren't they such extraordinary theorists precisely because all they had was paper and pencils?

Granted, that's not enough for experimenters: sometimes they need a bit of Scotch tape, too. Maybe that's why Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov came over to Manchester to work. If only the Russian science funding council had provided some Sellotape to go with their pencils and paper, the pair could have worked from home and still won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics.

And who needs another Nobel prize, anyway? We've got loads; they're just cluttering up our labs. The clutter will get more manageable as we start to sell off some of our equipment to raise money for salaries (eBay looks like a good bet, by the way, and the government has a very good "top-seller" rating if we want to use its account).

But the wonderful thing about us scientists is that we don't need much in the way of salaries. We're not like the bankers. We love our work. We do what we do because we're fascinated by it. Which means that we can be paid peanuts and we'll still show up at the laboratory bench every morning.

Naturally, it's going to be a bit more difficult now that so many of us will have to do science in our spare time. But it was one of us, Albert Einstein, who said: "Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one's living at it." So let's enjoy it even more, now that it's just a hobby.

Stacking supermarket shelves will certainly leave us an awful lot of brain space to think further about making those great British breakthroughs: how we might develop even more astonishingly successful prostate cancer drugs, for example, or the prospects of defeating Alzheimer's by exploring a link with mad cow disease. And when we're tidying up the bakery aisle, we'll surely be able to work out a few more ways to limit the impact of climate change.

It does seem a shame that the government is closing many of the facilities where we could have tested our ideas. But the United States, Singapore, France, Germany and China are all increasing their science budgets. We've still got email at home: we could just send our ideas to colleagues in other countries.

Let them run the experiments and get the Nobel prizes and the patents and the collaborations with multinational companies and the spin-offs worth millions that will further drive their economies out of recession.

Oh - hang on.

Michael Brooks holds a PhD in quantum physics. His most recent book is At the Edge of Uncertainty: 11 Discoveries Taking Science by Surprise.

This article first appeared in the 25 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, What a carve up!