The future of Science for the Future. Discuss.
When Professor Tony Barrett pulled a petition out of a coffin on Tuesday, he wanted to start a debate. And boy has he got one.
Twitter, the Guardian, the Telegraph and various blogs have been alive with open discussion about the EPSRC issue and, to a greater degree, the tactics of Barrett’s Science for the Future (SFTF) campaign. My post from Tuesday has been the most visited and commented on in Purse String Theory’s history.
So in this post I intend to synthesise some of the comments of the community in order to move the debate onto how scientists should ‘do’ political action. Pick a point from the list below, and have your way with it in the comments and on Twitter.
1. Factions v friends
Tuesday’s campaigners used the EPSRC controversy to kick start a debate about the overall impact agenda, leading to criticisms of factionalism. Athene Donald commented: “They are not representing all of ‘us’ and many of ‘us’ do not agree with their stunt yesterday.” In science, can factions ever be useful?
Here’s a tweet to illustrate this question:
When scientists start criticizing others for making criticisms of public bodies publicly, I worry bit.ly/J0Hi0h—
Ananyo Bhattacharya (@Ananyo) May 17, 2012
2. The political palate
One commenter invoked Britt Holbrook to argue that “if scientists and science funders don’t work together, politicians are likely to react by cutting science budgets”. So if scientists fall out with their funders, is it politically palatable for them to argue that science is separate from society? If not, how comfortable are scientists in relying on economic indicators of ‘success’?
3. Mob mentality
If a relatively small number of scientists devise a political stunt that is supported by a few hundred other scientists, the wider group may be seen to stand for everything the organisers argue (I’m thinking of this furore over Barrett’s nod to Stalin). Does collective action override or undermine an individual’s position?
4. The future of Science for the Future
Every campaigner I spoke to on Tuesday said that the coffin stunt was just a start, and that SFTF planned to build a membership for the ongoing fight for reform of the funding regime. I’m interested to see these concrete plans and a response to the comment that the group needs a “PR face-lift”. And while the debate has raged in the blogosphere and on Twitter this week, where was Barrett?
The EPSRC today published a response letter (scroll down) in the Telegraph to SFTF’s letter on Tuesday. In what looks like the community engagement the EPSRC is alleged to have avoided, the letter picks up on some of the criticisms railed against SFTF by calling for unity among scientists in the run up to the next spending review.
The comments below remain open 24/7 for our very own community engagement. I’m thinking of somehow capturing this debate for an article in my ongoing Guardian series, Talking Science to Power. Ideas welcome.