Physicists and chemists in the UK delivered a coffin and a funeral wreath spelling the word "Science" to 10 Downing Street this week to make their displeasure at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's priorities known, says Ananyo Bhattacharya at the Nature News Blog. The researchers say that the body's regulations for distributing funding favor the councilor's priorities rather than curiosity-driven research, Bhattacharya says.
Imperial College London researcher Tony Barrett described the council's actions as a "Stalinist collectivization of science." Among the council's more unpopular policies are the ones that stop the funding of PhD students with research grants, limit fellowships to certain subjects, and ban the resubmission of most rejected grant proposals, Bhattacharya says. The council has also instituted a rule that repeatedly rejected grant applicants be barred from resubmitting applications for a certain amount of time.
The Guardian's Mark Henderson says that "hyperbole" like the mock funeral and calling the council Stalinist are hurting the researchers' cause. While he says that scientists need to have a "strong political voice," Henderson adds that the argument that the protestors are making is "transparently absurd," and that such "strident personal criticism" of the council will make it easier for politicians to reject or ignore the scientists' legitimate concerns. "I'm all for robust campaigning on the issues that affect the health of British science," Henderson says. "But that campaigning has to be grounded in the facts that those of us who care about science hold dear."