Funding scientific research

June 11, 2009 at 6:19 pm 1 comment

As part of the recent cabinet reshuffle, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills has been effectively taken over or merged with the old DTI to form the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Nature quotes Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society approving of this:

“Science and innovation should be the bedrock on which the economy builds as we come out of the current recession,” he says. “Placing science alongside business and enterprise should help to make that happen.”

Personally, I think that if a proposed piece of research has a clear business application, then surely some venture capitalist or large corporation should be willing to ‘buy’ the idea, fund the research, and profit from the results. That’s kinda the point of capitalism, I thought. The research councils, and government-originating funds generally, should therefore be focussed on the kind of research that big business won’t fund, either because there’s unlikely to be much profit (e.g. treating malaria, although GSK and others do some good work in “third world disease” research, or the large hadron collider); or just because it’s too “blue-sky” and so risky.

So I’d be cautiously happy to see more corporate money buying out and funding university-based science, but only if there is a separate ring-fenced pot for funding research that is less obviously profitable. The increasing importance of demonstrating the economic benefits of proposed research, before the research councils will even consider it, risks stifling innovation rather than promoting it.

(And yes, I have had proposals turned down by the EPSRC and the BBSRC in the past, but this isn’t (all) sour grapes, promise!)

See also “Funding for science to get business focus, says Lord Mandelson” in The Times.

And the admin costs of the replaced departments, plus the fact that the next Tory government will scrap the new one anyway in the Guardian.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Barbarous binomials « Brain Dump  |  June 16, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    […] Apparently, in 1865, the British government was trying to save money by cutting science funding (plus ca change…). In a report to parliament, it was claimed that work at Kew Gardens, which was aimed at a […]

    Reply

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