Dec
08

Let’s have a conversation about the funding of science

posted on December 8th 2010 in Democracy & News & Science with 7 Comments

Throughout the Science is Vital campaign I was aware that whilst we were fighting to retain science funding, no-one really had an accurate map of current funding. We managed fine because we concentrated on funding through BIS and that was reasonably clear. If we had to enter into a wider conversation about where other funding comes from and where that money goes we would have struggled to provide an accurate and detailed picture.

I don't believe the issue of science funding is going to go away and I believe the need for an accurate picture of science funding is going to become vital.

Yesterday the NewScientist reported on the latest efforts by the Republican Party in the US to get the public involved in reducing their deficit (yes, I agree that they have ulterior motives).

 

"OMG, terrifying" tweeted Jenny Rohn in response. It is pretty scary what the consequences might be. 

Some people might argue that we should fight against the public playing a role in determining science funding. Whilst they might (hopefully) succeed in having scientists keep the final decision about which projects get funded, they will not be able to stop the public influencing decisions through programmes similar to YouCut.

It's my view that instead to trying to keep the public away from conversations involving science funding we need to engage with them. We can start by creating an accurate picture of what is currently funded in the UK. We have a very efficient science research sector in the UK (see point 3) so let's be open about what we spend and why.

We can choose not to join in the conversation about science funding, but as the YouCut programme shows, it doesn't mean the conversation isn't happening, it just means that the science community is not part of the conversation. If we want that conversation to be informed, to be rational, and to be intelligent then we need to be part of it.

 

currently there's 7 comment(s)

  • alice

    commented on 8th December 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Mmm, this is an issue I’ve been thinking about since I first saw posting about this last week.
    Glad someone’s picked up on the possible connections between YouCut and other forms of public engagement. I was wondering if the PE community in the UK were simply trying to ignore it.
    I think it was Chris Mooney who calls YouCut the “citizens googling” approach to funding. The sort of public engagement called for by Demos et al (at least in UK) is, I think, very different from that. Importantly: it asks a lot more of the citizens than a quick google.

    Reply
  • Shane McCracken

    commented on 8th December 2010 at 2:48 pm

    Thanks for the comment Alice. I’ve been having a few conversations to see if we can get something off the ground. I think YouCut might be the stimulus to get people moving.
    I need to have a better look at the Demos work. Do you have a link?
    My view is that people are going to interact in different ways and to different degrees. The important thing for science IMHO is that we don’t wait for the TPA to start and control the conversation.

    Reply
  • alice

    commented on 8th December 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Demos haven’t done much (a bit on nano I think) but they have published some great little manifestos on topic:
    http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/paddlingupstream
    http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/publicvalueofscience
    Long history of work on this. It’s really not news.

    Reply
  • Ian Brunswick

    commented on 8th December 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Great find, and fascinating. Who’d have thought Republicans would push science communication and policy governance onto the general populous in an effort to actually create more antipathy between “The public” and “researchers. In a way it’s a disturbing twist on a project I did called Your Science Your Say, where visitors could choose which researcher to fund: http://yourscienceyoursay.wordpress.com/about/ and a second time strictly and a second time about how they think policy and funds for nanotech should be decided: http://www.yourscienceyoursay.com/

    Reply
  • Kieron Flanagan

    commented on 8th December 2010 at 4:12 pm

    I have been uncomfortable about the response to this since it appeared. The response often hasn’t been to criticise the motives behind this specific call for public ‘engagement’ or behind the leading emphasis given in that call to focus in on certain kinds of research. Sadly, the response has often been about the principle of the “uninformed public” having a say on what research is funded.
    I just find it hard to be horrified by that.
    ( I do take @Alice’s point about structured and supported upstream public engagement – this is certainly not it. )
    We can and should try to do better. It must be in the interests of those who benefit from tax pounds and dollars from the ‘uninformed public’ to engage them more in discussions about research priorities. Beyond a certain point, peer review simply cannot decide between different A+ rated proposals. Other criteria inevitably come into play. I don’t see why public engagement couldn’t play a part here rather than old-boy networks, snobbishness or vague considerations of “user” or other priorities. I’ve suggested elsewhere that it would also be interesting to experiment with allocating a small proportion of RC research funding through some kind of public engagement process.
    On the picture of what research is funded in the UK: HEIs have to report aggregate figures to HESA and we should be able to access detailed information via FOI requests to individual institutions. But a standard requirement to report/publish details of who funds what would seem to be a positive move, though some protections for commercial confidentiality might be required.

    Reply
  • Richard Jones

    commented on 8th December 2010 at 4:29 pm

    On a more positive note, the EPSRC did have a little experiment on connecting public engagement directly to science funding priorities in the context of nanomedicine a couple of years ago, which I thought was rather successful. Here’s a piece I wrote about this exercise (which I was involved with):
    http://www.softmachines.org/wordpress/?page_id=866
    and a more general reflection on this kind of process:
    http://www.softmachines.org/wordpress/?p=878

    Reply
  • alice

    commented on 8th December 2010 at 7:00 pm

    We could, as Wired just have, dub YouCuts a crowdsourced *attack* on science, and therefore distinguish it from the sort of public engagement work I personally see largely as a movement quite supportive of science (a critical friend maybe, but a friend).
    I’d also add that UK public culture of science is VERY different from the American context.
    This is maybe useful context/ cheering? http://ceoamrc.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/dressing-down-the-naysayers-on-public-engagement/

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