Posts Tagged ‘Funding’

Excellence all round!

September 29, 2012

Some sort of measure of relative “excellence” (top 0.1% in terms of citations) amongst a group of leading research nations.

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!

The future of the Met Office and climate data

November 18, 2010

There’s an interesting Sky News blog post here discussing the future of the Met Office and its climate data:

But from the Treasury’s perspective, it must be encouraging that there is a willingness to think radically about t the ways in which publicly-owned assets such as data and real estate might be reorganised to generate returns for taxpayers.

This is a bit worrying from a climate perspective for a couple of reasons:

1) after the UEA CRU email episode this does not seem like the way forward for data openness.

2) the Met Office, and particularly its climate research wing the Hadley Centre, are real world leaders. I can’t see how “part privatisation” would not jepodise that position.

Make science an issue

January 14, 2010

The Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK (CaSE) last night hosted a debate between the science spokesmen of the three main parties: Lord Drayson (Lab), Adam Afriyie MP (Con) and Dr Evan Harris MP (LibDem).  Firstly, what a great development this is for science policy in this election year – science and engineering have a massive impact in the UK and any effort to “Make science an issue” has to be applauded.  The debate can still be viewed here.

Ok, what about the debate?  Well, the opening statements from Drayson and Afriyie did not fill me with confidence.  Afriyie wants to “get Britain working again” – to me, this sounded like he thinks science in this country is broken.  He probably didn’t mean that and was just mindlessly spouting a party slogan but it’s not how I would have kicked off if I was in his position.  Drayson started off by saying that there “have been no cuts” in the science budget.  I’m sure that most people relying on STFC funding (a topic that was brushed under the carpet in this debate) might find that like a kick in the teeth.  In this company, it was not hard for Harris to tower above his opponents on the scientific, as well as general political, issues at hand.

Given the topic of my previous blog post, I was keen to hear the panel’s views on the “Impact” agenda.  However, as seemed to be a problem with the debate format, the question (“What impact do you expect from government funded research?”) was a bit vague and the initial answer from Drayson was very fluffy.  Harris was negative with respect to the Impact Plan, espousing the merits of blue sky research with unknown impact.  Afriyie picked up the ball and gave more of an opinion on the impact debate and mirrored my own (and the research council’s) views that getting scientists to think about impact at the proposal stage is no bad thing but it should not be used to determine funding decisions.  However, when a question on private/public funding of science came up, Afriyie then seemed all for more applied research to close the “innovation gap” between top quality research and industrial output.

Afriyie later well and truly dropped the ball on the subject of Prof. Nutt.  His view seemed to be that ministers should be free to sack any “advisor” they have for any reason at all!  (This also missed the point, made by @SmallCasserole on the Twitter #scidebate feed, that Prof. Nutt was not a personal advisor; he was the head of a statutory body.)  Afriyie’s opinion seemed even more ridiculous as, in response to a previous question on scientific knowledge within the House of Commons, he had described his passion for evidence based policy.  This evidence can, presumably, be cherry picked from whichever advisor suits your opinion.

Libel reform also got a lot of support from all on the panel.  However, given that the question (as well as most of the momentum behind the libel reform campaign) came from Sense About Science, Afriyie’s assertion that he was making the libel reform case “very loudly within the Conservative Party” rang a little hollow after Zac Goldsmith’s pathetic hatchet job of Sense About Science in the Guardian’s CiF.

So, my conclusion from all this is that Drayson was keen to keep his head down; Harris is clearly a massive bonus for parliament even if his chances of becoming the next Science Minister are relatively slim; and that Afriyie veered from good (repaying student loans for graduates going into teaching, compulsory “science lessons” for all Conservative MPs) to catastrophic (Prof. Nutt, David Cameron’s “zeitgeist” being enough to increase donations to medical research charities).  But I am excited about this interaction between science and politics and really hope that this is widespread and continues all the way to the general election this year.