So, fine, there's a letter in The Times signed by over 5500 scientists arguing that UK science would suffer in the event of Brexit. They talk about funding, and collaboration, and shared infrastructure. There are cited sources for their evidence. I agree with the letter. I even signed it. But it's so boring and abstract. And all this stuff about financial stuff just disappears into the mist of the general economic to-and-fro.
Then the other day it hit me:
In our research group, in the exact office I work in every day, we have researchers from all sorts of countries, but mostly from the EU. Would they all be here if the UK had divorced itself from the EU? I don't think so. Have you seen the bureaucracy that an American has to go through to work or study in the UK? (I say "American" (meaning USA) to emphasise that the burden is there even for the richer countries.) I don't know how they maintain the energy to go through that!
So if it was much more hassle to study here than in Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, it's clear to me that we'd lose some proportion of those scientific minds coming over to collaborate or to study. I'm not even talking about the people who are directly funded by the EU, and nor am I assuming some massive limitation on free movement. We'd lose out from the multiple little frictions of no longer being part of the big club that makes so easy the sharing of people who have good ideas.
Some people would counter this with suggestions about collaborating with other countries instead: the Commonwealth, China, India. Well guess what? We already do plenty of that too. It's not a zero-sum game.
So yes, our excellent science definitely benefits from the free movement of people in the EU. But if I say it like that, it sounds so abstract again. - The great people I've encountered in my research career, the great ideas they've come up with and developed together, which of them would not be there?