The damaging bureaucracy of academic peer preview

  • 309. Braben DW, Allen JF, Amos W, Ball R, Birkhead T, Cameron P, Cogdell R, Colquhoun D, Dowler R, Engle I, Fernández-Armesto F, Fitzgerald D, Hall J, Heslop-Harrison P. Herschbach D, Kimble HJ, Kroto H, Ladyman J, Lawrence P, MacIntyre A, Mattick J, Pelloni B, Randall D, Ray D, Roberts RJ, Seddon K, Self C, Swinney H, Vita-Finzi C. 2014. Peer preview tyranny: The damaging bureaucracy of academic peer preview. Letters. The Daily Telegraph 3 June 2014; p 21. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/10870609/The-damaging-bureaucracy-of-academic-peer-preview.html; commentary at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10870995/Nobel-winners-say-scientific-discovery-virtually-impossible-due-to-funding-bureaucracy.html
  • SIR – Under current policies, academic researchers must submit their proposals to a small group of their closest competitors – their peers – for consideration before they might be funded. Peers selected by funding agencies are usually allowed to deliver their verdicts anonymously. They assess the proposal’s suitability for funding, whether it would be the best possible use of the resources requested, and determine, if it were successful, the probability that it might contribute to the national economy in some way. If the answers are satisfactory the proposal has roughly a 25 per cent chance of being funded. Peer preview is now virtually unavoidable and its bureaucratic, protracted procedures are repeated for every change in direction or new phase of experimentation or for whatever an applicant might subsequently propose. Consequently, support for research that might lead to major new scientific discoveries is virtually forbidden nowadays, and science is in serious danger of stagnating. Many scientists privately deplore these policies but their professional standing often depends on their acquiescence – a catch-22 that effectively diminishes public opposition to the policies. We call upon funding agencies to support sustained, open-ended research in unfashionable fields.
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About Pat Heslop-Harrison

Professor of Molecular Cytogenetics and Cell Biology, University of Leicester Chief Editor, Annals of Botany. Research: genome evolution, breeding and biodiversity in agricultural species; the impact of agriculture; evalutation of research and advanced training.
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