Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Collaborators and Quislings

So disappointed by the attitude of the RSC's president in this press release I had to write to the RSC to make my feelings known.   If you feel the same please let them know too.

Dear RSC,

I have just read the comments made by our President, Professor David Phillips, in the above press release, and I must say and am disgusted and disappointed by them. It is the job of the RSC to support chemistry, lobby government and the research councils on behalf of the chemistry community. The president should use his higher profile and his national standing to do this most vocally. The RSC, on behalf of its members, should be campaigning for more funding for the whole of chemistry. It should be emphasising the value each branch of chemistry brings to society, not lending credibility to the misguided attempts of Delpy and the EPSRC to suffocate and downgrade an entire branch of chemistry which contributes enormously to the UK’s GDP.

Dr. Paul Clarke, CChem, FRSC

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Delpyc Destruction of Synthetic Chemistry

So the EPSRC are re-evaluating their funding priorities in order to best match their misguided delivery plan (see earlier blog "EPSRC delivery plan 2011-2015"). Does this re-evaluation involve talking to the scientific communities which they will rely on to deliver this plan? No, it doesn't. Does this drive for a re-evaluation come from government? No, it doesn't. It seems to be thought up by the EPSRC to keep their administrators busy now that they don't seem to process research grant submissions. Is this re-evaluation actually generating a portfolio of research that can deliver on the plan? No, it won't, and here's why.

Most of the areas the EPSRC fund are up for review,  but the few that have been announced already means that we can see the shape of things to come. The EPSRC have prioritised the following research areas: Healthcare, Global Uncertainties, Digital Economy, Manufacturing the Future, Living with Environmental Change and Energy. In order to do this the EPSRC want to grow the areas of catalysis research and quantum optics and information. They wish to maintain funding for anti hydrogen and graphene nanotechnology. They will reduce funding on organic synthesis and cold atoms and molecules. All other areas are currently under review. From a chemistry point of view at least this is sheer lunacy. 

How is reducing the funding in organic synthesis going to advance a healthcare agenda?  The vast majority of drugs on the market are small molecules made by organic synthesis by trained synthetic organic chemists. If we are to move to an era of personalised healthcare, but one that does not value organic synthesis, who will make these new drugs? The decision seems stranger still when the EPSRC wants to grow catalysis. Who is going to make the new catalysts if not for synthetic chemists. What is the point in devising a new catalyst (which performs a synthetic - useful- chemical transformation) if the synthesis of new molecules is being actively discouraged?

How is reducing the funding in organic synthesis going to advance an energy agenda? New energy technologies for example hydrogen storage, require the synthesis of new materials. If we deprioritise synthesis who will design and make these new materials? There may also be other properties that new materials for the energy agenda require, such as heat resistance, better conductivity or insulation. Yet creating these will be much harder, if not impossible without skilled synthetic chemists to hand. 

How is reducing the funding in organic synthesis going to advance an environmental change agenda? Wow! Environmental change, what does this mean? Flood defences? Reduction in CO2?  It could do. But it could also mean developing new agrochemicals to protect food supply in a warming world, new materials to better withstand the changing environmental conditions, new materials to capture/recycle CO2. Who will make these materials? You've guessed it synthetic chemists.

Synthetic chemistry is being attacked on all sides by Delpy and his EPSRC minions. The deprioritisation of the science in the face of the evidence which shows that it is one of the most crucial to meet the EPSRC's goals, and the removal of project studentships from the responsive mode when most of the synthetic chemistry research is done by project students are nonsensical and tantamount to scientific vandalism. It is sheer lunacy!

Synthetic chemistry is the ONLY science which actually creates new, never-previously-existed molecules, compounds and systems. All other sciences work by studying what nature has given us. Synthetic chemistry is not limited by this: it creates! It is the only science which can do this and thus opens the doors to a world of potential solutions not currently in existence. However, understanding this seems to be beyond the imagination and common sense of those narrow minds at the EPSRC. 

The Delpyc Destruction of UK synthesis is underway and we must try our best to make government, the public and industry realise the harm Delpy's policies are doing.