Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from N Michael Green, Department of Mathematical Biology, National Institute for Medical Research

  The main avowed objective of the proposals by the MRC for the future of the NIMR is to promote clinical research and to provide clinicians with opportunities for an education in research methods.

  Given that this is a worthwhile objectives is it best achieved by revolution or evolution? So far the MRC has focused on the revolutionary solution. They propose to move the Institute to a new site in central London, emphasising the advantages of the new interactions which this would promote, with little apparent thought about the ensuing disruption of support facilities and of research teams.

  I would like to put forward briefly the advantages of an evolutionary approach, which could achieve the objective in a less destructive manner. There are at least two ways in which this might be done.

  1.  Clinical facilities could be created at Mill Hill, where there is plenty of space, but this would be expensive and difficult to justify in terms of the need for a new hospital in the area.

  2.  A more practical alternative would be to build research facilities on one of the sites (UCL or KCL) already identified, to promote clinical research in collaboration with appropriate groups at NIMR. New appointments at NIMR could enhance the process, so that the new outstation of the Institute could grow and change according to demand. Such growth by evolution has proved successful at both LMB and NIMR and could be both less destructive and more economical than the current proposals for wholesale transfer.

  It is a fallacy to assume that proximity in itself promotes collaboration as can be seen from examples within the MRC. Very little of the first class research done at the Laboratory for Molecular Biology in Cambridge has involved clinical collaborators, in spite of the location next to a large hospital. Fruitful collaboration usually emerges from a common interest in specific problems, with benefit from complementary technical approaches. It often evolves slowly. The focus and the collaborators may change as the scientific understanding develops and new collaborators may well be distant, including international. Collaboration is driven by the science not by proximity. In a large Institute it can be fostered by new appointments. Examination of the publications from the NIMR shows how much this can change the focus of research in five or 10 years.

  I hope that that the proposals can be reconsidered in rational terms rather than burying them in the jargon of "management"—Blinded by the Vision!

27 October 2004

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