Ahead of spending review, UK Business Secretary Sajid Javid has hired consultants to examine where cuts to the research budget should be made, a move that worries Richard Grant, as he writes at the Guardian's Occam's Corner blog.
Grant says that science funding in the UK is in a precarious state, as public spending on research and development has fallen to less than 0.5 percent of the GDP and as predictions of the November spending review expect between a 25 percent and 40 percent cut.
The consultants, Grant notes, have asked the research councils to justify their existence as independent entities. "While potentially sensible, you have to wonder what's going to happen when such a bunch of consultants ask for justification for the existence of seven different research councils," Grant says. "Never mind that biotechnology, engineering, economics, social science, the environment, medicine, and arts and humanities are all different fields: the consultants ask, why so many?"
He adds that the Department of Business, Industry and Skills has also suggested, as a cost-saving move, centralizing procurement. While this also sounds good in theory, Grant says it ignores certain realties. He recounts that when he worked in a lab, he had to buy what he needed from a central system, but many of those items, though cheap, weren't the best quality — he says the pipette tips would fall off the pipettes and that the oligonucleotides he ordered regularly contained errors.
"Now, yes, I'm all for accountability, especially when it's your and my tax revenues we're talking about," he writes. "But when nonscientists make such naive suggestions, you seriously have to wonder how many early-career researchers could have been funded, instead of being sacrificed on this bonfire of vanities."