Research system, culture and funding

The UK has a world-class research system, producing high quality science that contributes to the country’s economic growth while also tackling society’s biggest challenges. The funding of research, along with the culture it supports, needs to continually evolve if science is to be the best it can be.

A healthy research community

In order to deliver the best possible science, there needs to be adequate investment in research and development. At the same time, it is important to foster a culture within the scientific community that builds trust and confidence in the work being done by researchers in the UK.

The research and innovation sector in the UK is among the most highly regarded in the world, and it contributes enormous benefits to the country’s economy. Yet, there are always areas for improvement. In a fast-changing world, the UK needs to be nimble to ensure it can continue doing the science that matters, but it also requires a coordinated vision.

The Royal Society is taking a long-term view of science in the UK, looking at what will be needed to ensure the country has the best supply of talent, the infrastructure and funding it needs. We want to support an environment where science is done openly and in ways that encourage public discourse about how it should be used, and where any limits should lie.

The environment in which research is conducted matters. It can shape what research is done, how it is performed and who does it. A healthy research culture can mean adopting behaviours, attitudes, values and norms that encourage open, collaborative science involving a diverse workforce. 

We saw the power of international collaboration and open science during the COVID-19 pandemic, where researchers from around the world worked together in unprecedented ways to tackle the disease. If we are to face other threats, this sort of approach has to become commonplace. 

But a positive research culture also requires a change in the way we reward and celebrate science – the results that show something doesn’t work are arguably just as important as the breakthroughs that reveal something does. It is also about engaging the public, and listening to their opinions about the way science should be steered to benefit society.

The Royal Society has kickstarted a national conversation about what the UK’s research culture should look like and how organisations can help to shape that. We want to encourage all those in the scientific community to have their say and build a research culture that allows excellence to flourish.

Many of the challenges currently facing the world will not be solved within the next few years. They instead exist on the scale of decades and even centuries. With this in mind, UK science and technology cannot afford to be hampered by short-term thinking and investment that stops and starts. Instead, the UK needs a long-term plan to ensure its science system is able to deliver the knowledge, solutions and technologies we will need in the future. 

The Royal Society’s Science 2040 programme is examining just what will be needed to keep the UK’s science system at the forefront of research and innovation in the decades to come. It is looking at what support and funding will be required to fulfill this vision, but also asking what priorities should be that will deliver benefits to society but also boost national prosperity.

By laying out the principles for what the UK science system should look like in 2040, we hope to contribute to an environment that will benefit the UK and humanity as a whole.

For science to be at its most effective, it needs to be trusted. Research must be guided by high ethical standards, which need to be continually updated as new knowledge and areas of study emerge. The use of technologies such as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and geoengineering, for example, could have profound impacts on society and the world, which should be considered openly.

Scientists themselves should also behave in an honest and open way. Poor practices can undermine the integrity of science and the scientific method, slowing down progress. 

This not only means celebrating our successes, but examining the occasions where science has failed to live up to the standards it should. There are examples throughout the history of science where ethics and integrity have been far from acceptable, and we should learn from these.

These behaviours can also play a vital role in the public perception of science. The Royal Society is dedicated to helping the wider public to understand the scientific method, along with distinguishing between good and bad science. This can help the public to be more involved in the discourse about the implications of new technologies and the ethics of how they should be used. 

A solid grasp of the scientific method is important for everyone as we navigate a world where misinformation and disinformation can quickly spread

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