Supplementary submission from the Biosciences
The Biosciences Federation (BSF) is a single
authority representing the UK's biological expertise, providing
independent opinion to inform public policy and promoting the
advancement of the biosciences. The Federation was established
in 2002, and is actively working to influence policy and strategy
in biology-based researchincluding funding and the interface
with other disciplinesand in school and university teaching.
It is also concerned about the translation of research into benefits
for society, and about the impact of legislation and regulations
on the ability of those working in teaching and research to deliver
effectively. The Federation brings together the strengths of 45
member organisations (plus nine associate members), including
the Institute of Biology. The Institute of Biology is an independent
and charitable body charged by Royal Charter to further the study
and application of the UK's biology and allied biosciences. It
has 14,000 individual members and represents 37 additional affiliated
societies (see Annex). This represents a cumulative membership
of over 65,000 individuals, covering the full spectrum of biosciences
from physiology and neuroscience, biochemistry and microbiology,
to ecology, taxonomy and environmental science.
Has the time comeas part of a clear economic
strategyto make choices about the balance of investment
in science and innovation to favour those areas in which the UK
has a clear competitive advantage?
1. To a large extent UK research funders already
prioritise part of their research investment portfolio. Furthermore,
most of the scientific community accepts that taxpayers should
expect to see an upside from their investment in research. This
is really question about how much further the UK should proceed
in the direction of prioritising research activity at the expense
of response mode "bottom up" funding.
What form a debate or consultation about the question
should take and who should lead it?
2. This will rapidly evolve into an argument
for additional funding in areas where the exponents will claim
that much opportunity will be lost without further focussed investment.
The potential conflicts of interest are large and have to be avoided
if the community is to retain faith in the integrity of the decision
3. We consider that there should be an international
dimension to the consultationpreferably with input from
a significant overarching organisation. The Japanese Society for
the Promotion of Science, the US National Science Foundation and
the European Science Foundation are all examples where useful
input about the accuracy of claims made within the UK could be
4. In addition, balanced input could be obtained
from UK Learned Societies and organisations like HUBS (Heads of
University Biological Science Departments). Yes, they will have
vested interests, but they are in a good position to make priorities
within their limited interests.
5. The consultation should be as wide, open
and transparent as possible. If this is achieved, who leads it
is less important.
6. Finally, we believe that directed (prioritised)
research has been undertaken for sufficient time for a good quantitative
case to be made for or against the proposition. Is there any evidence
to suggest that, in biology at least, that directed research gives
better dividends (£ for £) than response mode? If there
is, we haven't seen it: if there isn't, it should be sought.
Whether such a policy is desirable or necessary
7. It may be essential in order to maintain
good funding levels but whether it is desirable depends entirely
on the consequences.
What the potential implications of such a policy
are for UK science and engineering, higher education, industry
and the economy as a whole
8. The BSF believes strongly that if we only
focus on what we think we are good at today, we will be good at
very little tomorrow. The future health of our science base requires
that response mode funding is always sufficient to nurture the
9. Furthermore, the UK is already in a position
where prioritisation and the rewards for obtaining big grants,
has led to a loss of capacity in key subjects. Examples include
toxicology, fresh water biology and taxonomy; in the latter case
we will soon be relying on gifted amateurs to monitor climate
change. Increasing the focus of research and innovation is likely
to lead to a change of teaching focus in Universities and further
damage subject areas that are below the radar but nonetheless
critically important for the UK economy. And teaching, of course,
refers to all levels but perhaps especially the postgraduate level
because this is the source of most of the future experts.
10. Even if the foresight for prioritised
investment is excellent, the upside to the economy will not appear
without action all along the translation route. In particular,
we are concerned that in the biosciences, where delivery timelines
can be long, there remain significant funding gaps for early and
mid stage companies.
And were such a policy pursued, which research
sectors are most likely to benefit and which are most likely to
11. This obviously depends on the size of
the sector but the 21st century is the age of biology and we have
only just started to exploit the major discoveries of modern biology.
However in many ways biology has changed and increasingly needs
to interact with chemists, mathematicians, engineers and physicists.
For biology to flourish and deliver its potential, the strength
of other sciences is critical.
12. The law of unintended consequences is always