In a talk to the Festival of Science in Salford, Dr Cotgreave, Director of SBS, will argue that Newton, Darwin, Einstein and Mendel would probably all fail to get research funding if they worked in the UK today.
“Newton took 15 years to write his first major book; Darwin spent ages doing tedious descriptive work on barnacles; Einstein’s work was so whacky that a committee would have foreseen little probability of it turning out to be right; and, as a monk, Mendel was hardly part of a group with a “relevant track record.
“I’m quite certain that all of these things would have caused the grant-giving bodies to turn down their applications if these great scientists applied for funding today,” said Peter Cotgreave. “How could Mendel have a relevant track record in genetics when the subject didn’t even exist until he virtually invented it.
“In the past the ‘dual support’ system of research funding meant the universities got some unencumbered money to invest in new ideas, on slightly off-beat things that did not fit with the establishment’s view of the world. These are the breakthroughs that really matter, in terms of inventing new products and processes to keep the economy buoyant.
“But funding mechanisms have become so skewed, that this discretionary funding has been almost completely abolished. The results are obvious. The number of scientific Nobel Prizes won by people working in the UK’s universities has been slashed by 90% since the 1950s and 1960s.”
“If this short-sighted approach carries on, the UK economy is going to suffer drastically.”
“It’s a great shame, because there is a lot of new money going into British science, and we want to see it deliver economic, social and environmental benefits. But the scope for such benefits is limited while researchers cannot take the risk of doing something really creative”.
Peter Cotgreave’s talk The Importance of Individuality in Research will be at 15.45 on 9 September in the Clifford Whitworth Building at the University of Salford.