Letter: Funding by 'peer review' helps tomorrow's Nobel scientists

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I SHARE Tom Wilkie's pride in the achievements of our Nobel Laureates, many of whom, like Sir John Cornforth, have been role models for me and other research scientists of my generation. However, Wilkie confuses the absence of Nobel-class research in Britain with what he sees as poor treatment of our past research leaders ('A land unfit for genius', 16 October).

There is much wrong with the funding of British research in both its quantity and distribution. But to suggest that a Nobel prize-winner should be provided with funds as he wants them is to undermine further the fair allocation of a scarce resource. The process of 'peer review' ensures that projects receiving support are those that appear most deserving to fellow scientists independent, on the whole, of political interference. Allowing a select few to bypass this process is not only disruptive to those who work within it, it also means fewer funds are available for the younger researcher who may be producing prize-winning research.

This sort of special pleading does no favours for British science and draws attention away from the real problem: the Thatcherite distortion and shrinkage of public investment in scientific research.

Gavin Reynolds University of Sheffield

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