Summary: Academics challenge the current research funding framework

Amy Williams

Via We must ensure that fortune favours the 500 | THE News

The article linked in this blog post is behind a paywall. For those not subscribed to the Times Higher Education magazine, a brief summary can be found below.

  • Success rates for bids for government funding are often below 20%.
  • ‘Impact’ is a dominant factor in deciding whose work will receive funding.
  • The author, Donald Braben, claims that as many as 500 of the most significant scientific discoveries of the 20th century might have been stifled if those scientists had been seeking funding today.
  • There is a prevalent idea that research funding should be distributed according to a ‘bang for your buck’ approach – something that President Barack Obama emphasized in a speech in 2013.
  • This approach stifles the freedom of academics to explore niche fields, which can yield some of the most groundbreaking discoveries.
  • Professor Braben makes several proposals that he believes would promote innovation in science today:
    • Applicants should not be restricted by age
    • Targets should not be given
    • Standards should be very high, but applicants should not be in direct competition (i.e. all good applicants should receive funding)
    • Creativity and ‘thinking outside the box’ must be rewarded

Reactions from other academics to Professor Braben’s piece can be found here (article also behind a paywall).

Professor Braben’s article was personally endorsed by the following academics:

John Allen, University College London

Hagan Bayley FRS, University of Oxford

David Colquhoun FRS, University College London

Merlin Crossley, University of New South Wales

John Dainton FRS, Cockcroft Institute, Daresbury Laboratory, UK

Steve Davies, University of Oxford

Rod Dowler, chair, Industry Forum, UK

John Ellis FRS, University of Warwick

Irene Engle, US Naval Academy

Felipe Fernández-Armesto, University of Notre Dame

Desmond Fitzgerald, Materia Medica, Knutsford, UK

Donald Geman, US National Academy of Sciences, Johns Hopkins University

Dudley Herschbach, US National Academy of Sciences, Nobel laureate, Harvard University

Pat Heslop-Harrison, University of Leicester

Sui Huang, Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle

Herbert Huppert FRS, University of Cambridge

James Ladyman, University of Bristol

Peter Lawrence FRS, University of Cambridge

Mark Leake, University of York

Chris Leaver CBE FRS, University of Oxford

Angus Macintyre FRS, Queen Mary University of London

John Mattick FAA, director, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney

S. Moore, US National Academy of Engineering, University of Texas at Austin

Beatrice Pelloni, Heriot-Watt University

Gerald Pollack, University of Washington

Douglas Randall, former US National Science Board member, University of Missouri

Sir Richard J. Roberts FRS, Nobel laureate, New England Biolabs

Helmut Schwarz, Fellow of the European Academy of Sciences, Technical University of Berlin

Ken Seddon OBE, Queen’s University Belfast

Colin Self, Newcastle University

Timothy Spiller, University of York

Gene Stanley, US National Academy of Sciences, Boston University

Harry Swinney, US National Academy of Sciences, University of Texas at Austin

Sir John Meurig Thomas FRS, Hon FREng, University of Cambridge

William Troy, University of Pittsburgh

Robin Tucker, Lancaster University

Claudio Vita-Finzi, FBA, Natural History Museum, London