Nobel winners say scientific discovery ‘virtually impossible’ due to funding bureaucracy
Major scientific discovery is being hindered because of the peer preview system, Nobel Prize winning scientists have warned
10:30PM BST 02 Jun 2014
Major scientific discoveries of the 20th Century would not have happened under today’s funding rules, Nobel Prize winning scientists have warned.
More than 30 leading scientists including four Nobel Laureates have written to The Telegraph deploring the current system of granting funding for scientific research.
They said that: “Sustained open-ended enquiries in controversial or unfashionable fields are virtually forbidden today and science is in serious danger of stagnating.”
Lead signatory Prof Donald Braben, professor of earth sciences at University College London, had published a book on how difficult it has become in the last 30 years to get research funded.
He warned that all the major funding institutions now use a system of peer preview in which anonymous members in the same field consider the proposal and decide if it should go ahead.
Prof Braben said: “The major scientific discoveries of the 20th Century would not have happened under today’s rules, they would not get funding now.
“It is very difficult to get a discussion together on this matter because everyone has to acquiesce.”
His book documents the 500 major discoveries of the 20th Century.
He says that Max Planck would not have made his quantum mechanics discoveries and Peter Mitchell would not have discovered the energy currency in biology had they been put through today’s funding rules.
The letter continued: “Peer preview is now virtually unavoidable and its bureaucratic, protracted procedures are repeated for every change in direction or new phase of experimentation or whatever the applicant might subsequently propose.
“Many scientists privately deplore these policies but their professional standing often depends on their acquiescence.”
Prof Braben’s book ‘Promoting the Planck Club: How defiant youth, irreverent researchers and liberated universities can foster prosperity indefinitely, is published by Wiley.
Co-signatories on the letter include: John F Allen, Queen Mary, University of London; William Amos, University of Cambridge; Richard Ball, University of Edinburgh; Tim Birkhead FRS, University of Sheffield; Peter Cameron, Queen Mary, University of London; Richard Cogdell FRS, University of Glasgow; and David Colquhoun University College London.
As well as Nobel Laureates, John Hall, University of Colorado; Dudley Herschbach, Harvard University; Sir Harry Kroto, Florida State University, and Sir Richard J Roberts FRS, New England Biolabs.