The damaging bureaucracy of academic peer preview – Telegraph


The damaging bureaucracy of academic peer preview

Academic funding agencies should support research in unfashionable fields

 10:35PM BST 02 Jun 2014
SIR – Under current policies, academic researchers must submit their proposals to a small group of their closest competitors – their peers – for consideration before they might be funded. Peers selected by funding agencies are usually allowed to deliver their verdicts anonymously. They assess the proposal’s suitability for funding, whether it would be the best possible use of the resources requested, and determine, if it were successful, the probability that it might contribute to the national economy in some way. If the answers are satisfactory the proposal has roughly a 25 per cent chance of being funded.

Peer preview is now virtually unavoidable and its bureaucratic, protracted procedures are repeated for every change in direction or new phase of experimentation or for whatever an applicant might subsequently propose. Consequently, support for research that might lead to major new scientific discoveries is virtually forbidden nowadays, and science is in serious danger of stagnating. Many scientists privately deplore these policies but their professional standing often depends on their acquiescence – a catch-22 that effectively diminishes public opposition to the policies. We call upon funding agencies to support sustained, open-ended research in unfashionable fields.

Donald W Braben
University College London

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;

David Colquhoun FRS
University College London;

Rod Dowler
Industry Forum, London

Irene Engle
United States Naval Academy, Annapolis;

Felipe Fernández-Armesto
University of Notre Dame

Desmond Fitzgerald
Materia Medica

John Hall
University of Colorado, Nobel Laureate

Pat Heslop-Harrison
University of Leicester

Dudley Herschbach
Harvard University, Nobel Laureate

H Jeff Kimble
Caltech, US National Academy of Sciences

Sir Harry Kroto FRS
Florida State University, Nobel Laureate

James Ladyman
University of Bristol

Peter Lawrence FRS
University of Cambridge

Angus MacIntyre FRS
Queen Mary, University of London

John Mattick FAA
Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney

Beatrice Pelloni
University of Reading

Douglas Randall
University of Missouri

David Ray
Bio Astral Limited

Sir Richard J Roberts FRS
New England Biolabs, Nobel Laureate

Ken Seddon
Queen’s University of Belfast

Colin Self
University of Newcastle

Harry Swinney
University of Texas, US National Academy of Sciences;

Claudio Vita-Finzi FBA
Natural History Museum

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