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
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'