Tuesday, 27 March 2012

RSC Elections 2

Candidate for RSC Organic Division President

Dear Colleagues, 

I am standing for the position of RSC Organic Division President and my official campaign statement will be circulated by the RSC shortly and can be found at on this blog. However, I wished to write to you to specifically on the topic of engaging with Government and EPSRC in order to reverse the current policies which downgrade the importance of our subject and threaten the ability to do fundamental ‘blue skies’ chemistry research in the UK.
Most of you will be aware that over the last 12 months I, along with several others, have campaigned tirelessly to raise the profile of Organic Chemistry within Government, and to highlight the damaging nature of the EPSRC’s current policies. Indeed, many of you have supported this campaign by signing the letters I have sent to David Willetts, the Minister for Science and Universities and to David Delpy, the Chief Executive of EPSRC. Many of you have also signed the letters sent by Prof. Tony Barrett to the Prime Minister on these substantive issues. Through hard work and engaging with the media our campaigning has attracted much attention and our concerns have been raised in both the scientific and national press. Those of us involved in the campaign thought that it was imperative that the new RSC Organic Division President was someone who would keep the profile of Organic Chemistry high and our concerns on the agenda. As such I agreed to stand for the position of RSC Organic Division President and I have received the supporting nominations of a large number of figures within the Organic Chemistry community. Soon you will have the choice of voting for one of three candidates. However, I am the only candidate who is actively involved in the campaign to reverse the ‘downgrading’ of Organic Chemistry by EPSRC and I am the only candidate who has a frequent dialogue with the relevant Government minister.
The RSC is a membership driven organisation and it should campaign for the interests of all of its members. Many of us feel let down by the low profile which the RSC and the Organic Division has had in challenging the EPSRC’s policy. If elected Organic Division President, I will strive to ensure that both the Organic Division and the RSC have a higher profile on these issues and challenge policy decisions which undermine Organic Chemistry as an essential contributor to society. If you share my desire to raise awareness in Government and the research councils of the benefits that Organic Chemistry brings to the UK, then I would ask you to vote for me when your ballot paper arrives.

Thank You.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Graphene: Willetts wants to have his cake and eat it

I have also received a reply from David Willetts, the Minister responsible for Science, about my concerns on EPSRC Graphene announcement. You will recall in his last letter to me that he said "...it is essential that we respect the Haldane Principle of not interfering in Research Council's strategic decisions." Yet, in this letter he states the complete opposite: dictating to EPSRC that £38M of tax payer's money MUST be used to support graphene research. If that is not a blatant violation of the Haldane Principle I don't know what is. The last sentence of his letter reads "...Government remains fully committed to the established peer review system...", but should have ended "....when it suits it to be"

Monday, 5 March 2012

Graphene: A Reply from Deply

Earlier in the year I wrote to David Delpy, Chief Executive of EPSRC about its announcement for a graphene centre of excellence. His reply is posted below.

Once again, he fails to recognise the laughable nature of the current state of EPSRC. He brushes off the statement that graphene is "less than an atom thick" as a typo and seems to think it is OK to use a picture of graphANE to illustrate an announcement on graphENE. Seriously, which scientist in their right mind would write an article on alkENES yet illustrate it with a picture of an alkANE? This further demonstrates that those in charge of EPSRC do not have the slightest competency in the area of the physical sciences.

Additionally, despite EPSRC telling the community that scientific excellence, as judge by expert peer review, will remain the primary method of awarding research funding, it confirms that for the graphene centre this IS NOT the case! How many other funding decisions have been made in this manner? Chances are we will never know. 

Through a number of FoI requests we have gained access to the documents and procedures used by EPSRC in its shaping capability exercise, and I have released them elsewhere on this blog. Nowhere do they provide support for an evidence-based and open dialog either internal to EPSRC or external. If EPSRC has documents that support its claims of an evidence-based shaping capability exercise it should release them so we can all see the validity of its argument. I would suggest that such documents do not exist. This leaves one to wonder how these decisions were made, personal prejudices?

Yet, the most revealing aspects of this letter are the last two lines where he copies into his reply the Head of York Chemistry and the VC of the University of York. Neither of these people were copied into my original letter and so why are they copied into his reply? One possibility is that Deply is trying to apply pressure to get me to give up the campaign through tactics of intimidation. If that is his motive it is highly unprofessional, unbecoming someone in his position and smacks of a totalitarian regime desperately trying to suppress opposition to what they know are flawed policies. It is responses like this that convince me we have won the argument and EPSRC knows it. Hopefully it is only a matter of time before common sense prevails and the whole destructive shaping capability experiment will be reversed.