What the papers say (about EPSRC)

This week the letter from 25 mathematical scientists to David Cameron (organized by Arieh Iserles, Richard Thomas, and me) and the letter from the six UK physical scientific societies to David Delpy at EPSRC (organized by the Royal Society) have attracted coverage in the press and on various blogs. Links to the letters and the press coverage are here.

I’ve collected below some of my favorite comments. Of course, my selection is biased, so I’ve provided links to the sources in case you’d like to read all the comments made.

Nature Newsblog (the full comment stream is here):

I talked to this journalist, Richard Van Noorden, on the phone and was impressed. He wanted to know if he could talk to an actual young mathematician who, as we were claiming, would be harmed by EPSRC’s policy. Then he tracked one down and interviewed her. I’m grateful to all the journalists who covered our letter, but I think this piece is my favorite. It goes well beyond the letter and press release.

Not too many comments, but what there are are all supportive (as you’d expect from Nature):

Delpy displays considerable chutzpah telling the select committee that the hundreds of furious scientists have produced little new ‘evidence’. What ‘evidence’ is EPSRC using to inform their increasingly damaging decisions? The evidence is that EPSRC has made no useful consultation with the science community whatsoever.

Posted by: Simon Higgins

The Register (the full comment stream is here):

The Register is a lively, relentlessly irreverent tech news site. The story got great comments. I am becoming accustomed to thinking of myself as a boffin.

One commenter suggests what is also the EPSRC spokesman’s uniform response to criticism of the new fellowship policy in mathematical sciences:

Anonymous Coward
A request for clarification.

I see that many commentards have declared this proposition to be shortsighted. But, I wonder if this declaration is simply a short term proposal that will be revisited every year or two. It does seem somewhat reasonable to decide to focus funding on specific areas if only for short periods of time as a means of bringing those areas up to speed more quickly–albeit at a overall loss of reesearch productivity. However, if this is meant to be their position for the next decade or two, then it seems thoroughly absurd.

Note: I’m not British, so please excuse my ignorance on the subject.

Another commenter replies:

Ken Hagan
“I wonder if this declaration is simply a short term proposal that will be revisited every year or two.”

Almost certainly, if only because politicians have no attention span. However, as the article notes, non-statisticians aren’t going to sit on the dole for a few years. They’ll emigrate, and that’s a big enough decision for them that *they* won’t be reversing it two years later. The net effect, then, is to drive away (expensively trained) talent permanently.

If you *wanted* to turn the UK into a basket case country, systematically expelling anyone with a clue might well be part of your Master Plan.

The Guardian (the full comment stream is here):

A little irritatingly, the Guardian headline said that we were complaining about cuts, when the second line of our letter started, “The issue here is not cuts.” This wrong-footed some commenters who were so keen to comment that they didn’t read the letter, or maybe even the story.

But happily there were also knowledgeable commenters:

“Mobile phone companies have got shed loads of money, won’t their R&D depts cover this?”

because often research is done decades before someone works out what it can be used for – thats just the way science works.

No private company will fund this research because of shareholders and managers demanding short-term profit.

Times Higher Education (the full comment stream is here):

This story is primarily about the Royal Society letter but mentions the letter to the PM from mathematicians at the end. The comment stream took an excursion through a slanging match between theoretical physicists(?) and applied mathematicians(?).

I found the following comment interesting partly because I agree with the general point, and partly because it alludes to the funding behind the discovery of graphene but doesn’t connect enough of the dots that I can tell what it means.

Think again

The EPSRC shaping the capability programme is as an initiative by the EPSRC personnel (who are not researchers or scientists) to decide who should be successful and do the research. This favours hierarchical structures, large investments, grandiose biuldings and planned research without creativity. Just remember how last Physics Nobel Prize research was done…

Research Fortnight (the story is here):

This newsletter on research funding doesn’t support comments, so the main thing to observe here is that the journalist, Miriam Frankel, faithfully captured my sputtering outrage in our interview: “The whole point here is that they want to pick out sub-fields within the subject somewhat arbitrarily … and that is really, just crazy. At that point it is just bizarre to not consult [the community],” says Totaro.

They have also covered the Royal Society letter.

Blog coverage
New-cleckit dominie, a mathematician working in Scotland
Piece of mind, N. Ghoussoub, a mathematician working in Canada
Sheer lunacy, a chemist working in the UK
spoxbrain, a particle physicist (maybe?)
Math Digest, from the American Mathematical Society
Blogs covering recent EPSRC activity
Quantum chaotic thoughts, Mason Porter, mathematician at Oxford
A scientist and the web, a chemist at Cambridge
Research Fundermentals, Phil Ward, research funding manager at Kent

1 Comment

Filed under EPSRC

One response to “What the papers say (about EPSRC)

  1. Pingback: EPSRC: Communication in several episodes, #3 | Geometry Bulletin Board

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