Funding - how predictable

May 19, 2011

Bravo, Baroness! Susan Greenfield is right that risk aversion in funding conflicts with "originality and independence of thought" ("Mighty oaks and little acorns", 12 May).

To a less "distinguished" academic like me, it has long been a puzzle that the UK has some of the most original and productive researchers in the life sciences and the social sciences, but some of the most fossilised and predictable systems for state research funding. British charities have shown more imagination in developing scientists and science, but most are small and have been badly hit by the global recession.

I do not think Greenfield's funding solution is feasible across all disciplines and settings (for example, research based in the NHS), but surely the land of Newton, Faraday and Darwin can do better than the present channels?

What about an open competition to design and evaluate a more effective funding system? Now that would be a creative use of research intelligence.

Woody Caan, Professor of public health, Anglia Ruskin University

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