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Funding is among top 40 of science policy research questions

March 13, 2012

Science funding is one of the top 40 questions that should be investigated in the field of science policy, according to a study in PLoS One published last week.

The study, “A Collaboratively-Derived Science-Policy Research Agenda”, was conducted by the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Science and Policy.

It was compiled via a collaborative process that, not surprisingly, mirrored its intent: to improve mutual understanding between those working at the interface of science and policy. In the study, 52 researchers and policymakers were asked to consult with colleagues and submit “key unanswered questions on the relationship between science and policy”.

Contributors included representatives from Society of Biology, Natural History Museum, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, Harvard Business School, Pfizer, Defence Science & Technology Laboratory, SPRU, Defra, the Royal Academy of Engineering, BIS, and Sense About Science. Over 200 questions were proposed, which were whittled down by voting to the top 40.

The top 40 fall into these six categories, reworded to make them slightly more user-friendly:

  1. Scientific evidence in policymaking
  2. How politicians use advisers
  3. How scientific advisers fit into the broader structure
  4. Policymaking under uncertainty
  5. Democratic institutions and scientific advice
  6. How scientists and policy makers respond to research on science policy

And, there in the 2nd category, is the all important funding question: What are the mechanisms by which budgetary pressures and societal constraints on policy-making influence the prioritisation and funding of research?

It seems there are enough research topics in that one question to sustain years of study. “Budgetary pressures” alone are ripe for analysis, setting aside “societal constraints”. We’ve seen budgetary pressures play out in a number of ways since the 2010 Spending Review, including commercialising patient data, funding cuts for research charities, and the closure of government forensics services.

Societal constraints would, I suppose, encompass things like the high importance put on research of direct economic value, one of the motivators behind the “impact” metrics now required for EPSRC grant applications – because, though eventually they may produce fiscal dividends, in the near future (ie, in the term length of elected politicians) they serve to show that the government is serious about getting value for money.

What would you say, in a very non-scientific (but collaborative!) poll, are the mechanisms by which budgetary pressures and societal constraints influence science funding? How have we seen it play out in recent years?

Image by Meerz via Flickr

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