Yesterday saw the launch of Science for the Future and it certainly did what it was intended to: make a splash! The launch got a large amount of media coverage on the mainstream media, and on the blogosphere and twittersphere. However, a lot of what was reported was reported second or third hand by people who weren’t actually there.
Below I summarise what Science for the Future is actually concerned about. Essentially the way EPSRC has forced through policies that we believe to be damaging the ability to conduct scientific research in the UK, without the full, proper and transparent consultation with academics, professional bodies and industry. These policies are:
1) The move away from investigator driven research to directed research portfolios. No evidence has been supplied by EPSRC to suggest that directed research portfolios produce better science.
2) The collectivisation of PhD studentships into DTCs which has led to the reduction in DTA funding and the banning of project studentships on responsive mode grants. A total reduction of 33% has occurred. This is contrary to the EPSRC's own commissioned review of studentships, and EPSRC has not provided evidence that DTCs produce higher quality PhDs that have done higher quality research.
3) The increasing amounts of money which are allocated in an opaque manner on the whim of EPSRC which completely circumvents proper peer review. For example £10M made available by EPSRC without peer review and without publishing the names of the “expert panel” that advised them.
4) The downgrading of peer review in the grant assessment process and the introduction of non-scientific and subjective criteria such as "importance" and "impact" to determine funding. As well as “guidance” being given to panel members as to which proposals have best fit with EPSRC priorities, regardless of scientific excellence.
5) The non-resubmission of all non-funded research grants, even if deemed excellent by peer review and fundable by panel, but were not funded due to budgetary constraints.
6) The limitation of fellowship applications to certain areas within the EPSRC remit for funding. These areas are decided by administrators and means that an excellent proposal will not be considered if it falls within EPSRC remit, but outside these arbitrary areas.
Science for the Future is not calling for more taxpayer's money to be wasted by EPSRC. We are not calling for political intervention into which science gets funded. We are calling for Parliament to investigate the operations of EPSRC and to decide whether their current policies and methods for funding science are in the best interest of the UK.
Science for the Future is made up of scientists and mathematicians from all branches of the scientific community, from all universities/institutes and from all age/career demographics. It is made up of academics who have good track records at getting EPSRC funding, including a number of prominent Leadership Fellows; young researchers who see their chance of doing science in the UK being eroded by these policies; established researchers who see how these policies are reducing their ability to do science; and by senior members of the community (Nobel Laureates, FRSs, etc) who are worried about the state UK science will be left in.
Yesterday's launch and parliamentary lobby day got Science for the Future noticed. Our interactions with MPs have been uniformly positive and we will now try to progress our campaign through these avenues.
The scientific community via the professional bodies, individuals and lobby groups such as Science for the Future are more than willing to engage with EPSRC to try and work through these difficulties. However, so far EPSRC has ignored offers to engage and hold a meaningful dialogue to discuss these concerns. I hope that EPSRC change their attitude and sit down with the community to work these problems out.