Tomorrow: a Victorian funeral for British science and EPSRC
Horses will pull a hearse and a coffin to Downing Street tomorrow in a PR stunt organised by opponents of the EPSRC’s funding strategy.
The caper will be part of the anti-EPSRC lobby day, which also includes over 100 researchers coming to London to meet with their MPs, a rally led by Sir John Cadogan and the delivery of a petition to Number 10. The petition, signed by 250 people so far, calls for “immediate reform of the EPSRC’s policies to restore credibility in the scientific funding process and secure [the] UK’s competitive edge in science innovation”.
As reported previously, the day will mark the founding of Science For The Future, a new group which, according to co-director Stephen Clark, is more than just a single-issue pop-up lobby. “We’re not going to disappear any time soon,” he says. “Even if the EPSRC said they’ll dump Capability Shaping, the same people will be there. We’re fulfilling an oversight function that should be fulfilled by government: sitting above [EPSRC boss] David Delpy.”
Delpy’s policies have enraged academics like Clark, who are gunning both for him and his organisation. “There’s a really good debate to be had whether it’s a good thing to have physical sciences and engineering funded by the same research council,” says Clark. “Their objective is applied science, not science. [The EPSRC has] a philosophy that everything has to produce the next iPhone or whatever. It really affects fundamental research.”
Although the text of the petition, seen by PST, does not call for the abolition of the EPSRC, sources from the campaign have stated this as a goal. The EPSRC said that it may publish a statement today on this matter. If that happens, look out for the statement here on PST.
There are few details from Science For The Future on how the new group will build momentum after tomorrow, but it is understood to be planning a membership model. For now, says Clark, “one or two individuals have dipped their hands into their own pockets” to fund tomorrow’s stunt and the PR pros behind it. The group will need to build a paying membership soon, not only to survive but also to defend against allegations of astroturfing.
The event kicks off from 9am at the Church House’s Bishop Partridge Room (1st floor), beside Westminster Abbey. Virtual campaigners can follow the day on Twitter using #science4thefuture.
I’ll also be covering the rally in the next article in my Guardian series on science in politics.
Image courtesy of Jonno Witts.