Feelings of Cambridge academics on science funding

A Cambridge Journal - Friday 8 February 2013

by Stephen Hewitt

At this evening's public lecture in Lady Magdalene Hall the master of Darwin College, Professor Mary Fowler, made some introductory remarks, from which it was easy to detect a dissatisfaction with the way science is funded. In the introduction to a talk titled "Foresight in Scientific Method" she said that politicians did not understand how science works. It was hard to see the relevancy, until she said .."impact is a particularly high blood pressure word in the UK academic community at the moment. Before we're funded we have to say what we're going to discover and then afterwards we've got to give all the evidence. Where's the place for luck?"

She concluded this theme with .."but today there's a terrible suspicion in our management of science that the good is just driving out the best".

At the reception in Darwin College afterwards some discussion on the theme continued. I mentioned to an experienced academic that I got the feeling that the Master of that College was not too happy about funding. "Nobody is" was the reply. Nearby, a senior academic was explaining how special teams are used to polish grant applications.

This is very far from the first time I have heard these sentiments from academics in Cambridge. The topic of how scientific research is controlled, how centralised the control is, and how control has changed over the decades is one ripe for journalistic investigation.