Dash for cash is stopping science in its tracks, claims Nobel winner

 

Scientific breakthroughs are becoming more difficult in Britain because of the pressure on scientists to demonstrate that their research has practical benefits before it is funded, Kostya Novoselov told The Independent.

The Nobel prize-winner, who was feted by Chancellor George Osborne for his pioneering work on graphene, said scientists increasingly have to show that their research has commercial potential.

He added that the “blue skies” nature of scientific research is critical to industrial innovation but is being stifled by academic funding bodies looking for short-term spin-offs. “We are gradually losing the blue-skies element [of scientific research]. It is very important because we lose this opportunity for breakthroughs,” he said. “You start to see more and more forms that ask you about the benefit to society from your research, and so on. It’s very hard to determine the benefit to society because science deals with something that is unknown.

“Another problem is that scientists begin to feel ashamed of negative results, which wasn’t the case a few years ago. Negative results are often as important as the positive results. The current system doesn’t tolerate failure.

“The situation is getting worse. The pot of money allocated to science is not increasing fast enough, or is even under the threat of being shrunk. But you are also seeing more and more strings attached to this money, which they shouldn’t be.”

Alongside his compatriot and colleague Professor Andre Geim, Professor Novoselov has been hailed by the Chancellor as the sort of scientist who should be encouraged to work in Britain. The Government has approved the funding of a new £61m National Graphene Institute in Manchester that is aimed at exploiting the commercial potential of their pioneering work.

Professor Novoselov, who is closely involved with the new institute, had insisted the money for it should not be diverted from Government funds for basic research. “Scientists should be given freedom of their research, and once the new breakthroughs are identified, they should be given additional funding to advance it into technology,” he said.

“Graphene is a good example, because the money given to the graphene institute is not part of the scientific budget. It’s coming from different sources” he said.

However, both Geim and Novoselov have been critical of the amount of money that the Government allocates to science. Professor Geim was one of the 53 signatories of a letter to the Daily Telegraph recently calling on the Government to boost the £4.6bn science budget rather than oversee a “policy of managed decline”.

Professor Novoselov said that Britain’s major competitors in south-east Asia, for instance, are spending about 3 per cent of GDP on science while the private and public sector together in Britain spend about 1.7 per cent on scientific research.

Even though the Government has “ring-fenced” the science budget, Professor Novoselov said a major boost to funding is essential if Britain is to stay a scientific powerhouse.

“It’s like a condemned man who is going to be shot and has been given another day to live – is that a good deal? Of course it’s a good deal with the background that everything else is being shrunk, but it is much better if this person gets pardoned completely,” he said. “If not in science, where do you see the economic growth of this country coming from?”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?