I guess everyone would like to be excellent but that’s not possible unless everyone was average. But that would be pretty boring, right?
Anyway, we had an EPSRC person visit Brunel last week and they gave a talk on the EPSRC strategy. The main thing I remember is that they’re very interested in “excellence” and, if I recall correctly, they’d like to focus more of their funding on the excellent people.
And it turns out that we’re quite good at being excellent in the UK – if you have a look at the plot to the right, which featured in the talk, then you’ll see that we’re second only to the USA in terms of share of the top 0.1% of papers ranked in terms of citations. (As an example, the department I work in is doing pretty well in terms of citations in environment sciences.)
Well, good for us!
But it got me thinking. How did the excellent people become excellent? I would guess that it comes from giving quite a few people the opportunity to prove themselves, which probably requires some funding, and the excellent (or the lucky, right place, right time) people rise to the top. I’m not suggesting that mediocre ideas should be funded just that focussing funding on the already excellent end might be a bit short-sighted.
Ideally, what I would like to see is that scientific proposals were double blind reviewed (where authors and referees are anonymous) for scientific excellence so that excellent ideas can be identified without bias towards people who’d previously done excellent work. Obviously track record should also be considered but I see no reason why this can’t be done separately from the the assessment of excellence.
That sounds like an excellent system to me!