At it's launch earlier in the month Science for the Future proclaimed the "Death of UK Science" and had a coffin with a floral wreath with the word "Science" delivered, along with a petition, to 10 Downing Street. Over the subsequent two weeks several people have complained that this launch was "divisive", "misguided", "risible hyperbole". However, the EPSRC's own data show that all is not as rosy as they would have everyone believe.
To put this in context let's review the argument that EPSRC use which explains it's current "demand management" policy on the back of falling success rates. This was discussed in a Nature News Blog http://blogs.nature.com/news/2011/09/amid_falling_success_rates_one.html
The first graph in the one EPSRC want you to see as it shows increasing success rates compared to other research councils.
The second graph shows the true picture, which EPSRC fail to address and that is the fall in applications is happening faster than the fall in funding.
In order to determine whether the accusation of "risible hyperbole" is valid let's look at the data for physical sciences. This data is taken from the EPSRC's own website, and I thank Prof. Chris Hayes for providing this analysis.
|2004-2005||Proposals Funded||Proposals Submitted||Funded Value £M||Success|
|2005-2006||Proposals Funded||Proposals Submitted||Funded Value £M||Success|
|2006-2007||Proposals Funded||Proposals Submitted||Funded Value £M||Success|
|2007-2008||Proposals Funded||Proposals Submitted||Funded Value £M||Success|
|2008-2009||Proposals Funded||Proposals Submitted||Funded Value £M||Success|
|2009-2010||Proposals Funded||Proposals Submitted||Funded Value £M||Success|
|2010-2011||Proposals Funded||Proposals Submitted||Funded Value £M||Success|
|Proposals Funded||Proposals Submitted||Funded Grant Value £M|
A number of conclusions can be drawn:
1) In physical sciences the pre-demand management success was for the most part above 30%.
2) Total EPSRC funded activity has decreased. In 2004-5; 520 proposals were funded, but this dropped to 151 by 2010-11, when the total number submitted was only 503! The introduction of FEC does not account for this fall as the 2005-8 period, when FEC was working through the system, is pretty stable.
3) The biggest change happened in 2008-9, when a single physical sciences panel (which operates as 3 tensioned panels) was introduced.
4) Since demand management was introduced in 2008-9, the number of grant applications had fallen sharply. To get some idea how catastrophic the situation is 1150 chemists, 1700 physicist and 500 material scientists were returned in the 2008 RAE, which makes 3350 scientists who could apply for EPSRC funding. Only 151 proposals were actually funded! What is very worrying is that we know scientists are being excluded from applying to EPSRC due to blacklisting and now shaping capability restrictions on areas that will be considered for funding.
5) It is important to note that the money spent by EPSRC in physical sciences is being eroded over time to £85.5M, but the decline in money is nowhere near as great as the decline in proposals being submitted.
This can be visually represented as graph 3.
Just so that we are under no illusions, the EPSRC's own data supports the warning of Science for the Future at its launch this month. The "Death of UK Science" (or the physical and mathematical parts of it) will occur in under 2 years if the current policies are maintained!
I would therefore suggest that those who labelled Science for the Future as peddling "risible hyperbole" are the "misguided ones" and are themselves guilty of the scientific equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns.