Funding good science is good for the economy

30 November 2011

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society has today urged research funders to trust scientists to decide where public funding should be directed or risk funding less effective scientists doing obvious work that is behind the cutting edge.

In his annual anniversary address, Sir Paul also called for greater interaction between scientists and industry to reignite the spirit of the industrial revolution and reinvigorate the economy.


In speaking about initiatives that arise from reviews to decide priorities Sir Paul warned that, ”As a consequence, such initiatives may attract less creative and effective scientists who simply follow where resources are being made available. “


He believes that a critical factor in funding decisions must be the quality and effectiveness of the scientists carrying out the proposed research.  Those that have recently carried out high quality research are likely to continue to do so.  The point is to support those that will carry out good research and not those that simply write good proposals.


Sir Paul advocates that, “Those leading research funding bodies should focus their attention on high level priorities avoiding the temptation to become prescriptive and too finely grained in recommendations concerning what areas should be funded.  They should put their trust most in the explorer scientist carrying out the research rather than a committee.”


He acknowledged that when a research programme is directed at achieving specific goals or applications a more prescriptive approach may be needed but decisions should always be driven by quality.


The case for greater interaction between scientists and business was also made as being crucial to rebuilding an innovation based economy.  There is a need to recreate the atmosphere of the industrial revolution when scientists, industrialists, social reformers and others met through groups such as the Lunar Society to share and discuss ideas.


Sir Paul said: “It was in this atmosphere that the industrial revolution was born and we need to reproduce it today.  Greater permeability should be promoted starting with the young, giving them wider intellectual exposure during higher education and their research training.  They need more diverse placements in their early careers with easy exchanges between sectors.  This is a key message, the promotion of translation and innovation requires permeability across sectors.”