Stone made flesh

May 5, 2011

Your obituary of Gordon Stone (28 April) followed the lead of the University of Bristol's website, which cited 1998 as the date of Stone's review of chemistry in the UK academy.

This is incorrect. The correct date was 1988 and the body that commissioned the review was the late, lamented University Grants Committee.

Stone's review was one of three, the others being the Oxburgh Review of Earth Sciences and the Edwards Review of Physics. Oxburgh was implemented, at no small cost, but the Universities Funding Council, the UGC's successor, bottled out when it recognised the implicit cost of adding physics and chemistry to the brew.

Stone recommended a reduction - variously quoted as 20 to 30 smaller or poorly resourced departments - from the total of 48 at the time. It didn't happen then but, as one observer noted more recently of the RAE: "If this goes on there will soon be no more than two dozen chemistry departments left in this country."

This year is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's International Year of Chemistry. The UK's international comparative performance (relative citation impact) in the field has actually risen from the world average in 1988, the year of Stone's report, to about 1.5 times that yardstick today.

Meanwhile, its world share has dropped from 7.5 per cent to 5 per cent of articles and reviews in chemistry journals indexed by Thomson Reuters' Web of Science database.

About half the UK's output now comes from just 10 institutions. If they can't get you one way...

Karen Gurney, Director, research evaluation, Evidence, a Thomson Reuters business

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