Chemistry lecturers have claimed that their discipline may suffer in the 2008 research assessment exercise because so many of the subject's brightest stars will be burdened with work as referees on the chemistry assessment panel.
The 2008 RAE promises to be the most time-consuming assessment to date, with reviewers having to trawl through hundreds of publications.
Guy Orpen, head of chemistry at Bristol University and chair of the Heads of Chemistry UK group, said: "I worry for the health of the discipline.
Sixteen of our brightest and best researchers are on the panel and won't be able to do research."
The 2008 chemistry RAE panel has 15 members representing just under a third of university chemistry departments plus one member from industry. All but two academic panellists are from top-rated - 5 or 5* - departments.
David Clary, a member of the chemistry panel and head of mathematical and physical sciences at Oxford University, said: "Professor Orpen's concern is reasonable and applies to all subjects. All members of RAE panels will have to spend a lot of time reading research outputs."
He said that at Oxford, panel members would have teaching and administration workloads reduced to mitigate the problem, but he added:
"This is an example of the significant knock-on effect of the RAE on the resources in universities."
The bulk of the workload will begin at the end of 2007, when panellists read through several hundred submissions, equivalent to many weeks' work, according to one panel member.
Smaller subject areas such as veterinary science, which had only six submissions in RAE 2001, expect to encounter the same difficulty.