Setting priorities for publicly funded research - Science and Technology Committee Contents


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460 - 480)

TUESDAY 19 JANUARY 2010

Professor Sir Martin Taylor, Dr James Wilsdon and Professor Dame Janet Finch

  Q460  Lord Broers: I would like to challenge you to be a little more specific about one particular issue. It is fine to say that we must maintain our pure science base, it is very strong and we must just deal with people; we must not set any strategies and we need to think of new topics. That is what we have been doing, that is fine. What else are we going to say? Everybody will love it and cheer from the sidelines. You then went on, Dame Janet, to say, however, that from the other end we might have to do something else. I am going to challenge you as to what that might be in more detail. Then, Sir Martin, you were saying that everything is fine and a similar sort of thing, and we have got this fantastic science base, etc; there are a couple of small problems such as the fact that there is a venture capital problem and there is, also, a problem that science has fallen away in private industry. They would strike me as absolutely catastrophic problems, not just some side issues. Then, Dame Janet, you said: "Well, we are going to work on the pull-through side and we will need to develop a clear, long-term strategy and vision and encourage the private sector to invest." Is there anything specific you can say in those areas? Are we going to actually select some areas where we are going to establish large centres? I understand that the Prime Minister and Lord Mandelson have asked Hermann Hauser to look at that. Are we going to have some big institutes and Fraunhofer-type things? Is there going to be anything new in your reports, or are you going to be banging on the old drums all over again?

  Professor Dame Janet Finch: I think it is quite difficult to say that any of us have any original thoughts that nobody has ever thought of before. Obviously, quite a lot of what our report is going to say will bring together thoughts that others have had, but we hope in a distinctive way. If I start with the question of the private sector and business pull-through, we certainly think that the large centres issues is something that government should explore a bit further. We are not taking an absolutely firm decision on it, at this stage, but we think it is something that does merit further exploration, which is already taking place, to some extent, through the work that the TSB has done, for example. I think that our view on private sector investment is that perhaps we have for too long simply exhorted the private sector to invest more. Everybody knows the ten-year science framework, for example, which has been mentioned, indicated that additional private sector investment was needed in order to deliver the aspiration of that framework. Exhortation to industry is probably not enough, and we feel that the government does have a role in actually creating the long-term stability of industrial policy which enables the private sector to know that it is worthwhile investing. I will give you an illustration of this which is actually not from this CST report but from another one that we published recently on the UK's infrastructure—the infrastructure being the physical infrastructure that moves things around the country: transport, energy, water and the ICT infrastructure. The conclusions of that report, which I am happy to say the Government has accepted and acted on quite quickly, included a real, deep concern about the lack of R&D investment in any of those infrastructure areas. We believe that there is a huge opportunity for this country to encourage private sector investment in R&D which supports the development of a modernised infrastructure for the UK but which, also, would have international resonance for business. It is that kind of thinking, Lord Broers, which we are advocating that the Government's role should not simply be to say: "We are putting in this amount of money, now, please, industry you get on and put some more in", but could do more to create the environment where it would be a good business decision for industry to invest.

  Q461  Lord Broers: They would do that through government-organised programmes?

  Professor Dame Janet Finch: No, not necessarily. Possibly some of it would be, but, no, our recommendations in the infrastructure report were not linked to large new incentives at all but simply creating the right environment which made it a good business decision for industry to invest.

  Q462  Lord Broers: Can you give us an example?

  Professor Dame Janet Finch: An example would be the water industry, where the regulatory system within the water industry (and this is not a criticism of the regulatory system) is focused narrowly on regulation relating to financial issues and has, therefore, positively dis-incentivised the water companies to invest in R&D. So we have a water distribution system and waste management system which I think everybody in the industry recognises is in need of modernisation. We do not have the R&D capacity to assist that modernisation ourselves. If the regulatory system were to be changed to incentivise companies to invest in R&D for the longer term then we would have created an environment in which the private sector needed to and wanted to invest. That is an illustration.

  Q463  Chairman: Do you think, on that, that in Scotland, where the water system is in public ownership, it is any different?

  Professor Dame Janet Finch: I do not know, is the answer to that.

  Q464  Lord Crickhowell: Can I probe a little further about what you have been finding out about venture capital? Years ago, in the early-1980s when I was Secretary of State for Wales and taking a keen interest in the linkage between universities, industry and venture capital, I found that in the United States venture capitalists were sitting absolutely there with the university and people on the ground and those who were developing things in the obvious centres—whether in Boston or California and so on. I found there was a detachment of the British financial world, generally, including the venture capitalists, from what was going on near the hotspots in this country. Since then, I suppose, the City of London has even more seen itself as a great world centre with everyone sitting in the City of London. I wonder whether the experience I was having in the 1980s of this detachment is a factor still, and there is some way we need to get the venture capitalists in the centres and knowing what is going on on a daily basis, as I found they were doing in the United States.

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: Can I have a chance to try and roll those two together? I think some of Lord Broers' questions were directed at me as well. As regards the venture capital and what I said, really, also about the public R&D decline, I was not in any sense trying to underplay them; I was trying to say there was some good and some bad. I gave you six lines of recommendations that we will possible be making, and one of them will be pertaining to that topic. I think, Janet, you were going to say a little bit, also, about how this might interact with the thoughts that you were saying about Hermann Hauser. The cardinal point I want to make on this matter is that it is an issue that is not going to be underplayed in our report; it actually leads to one of the six main strands of the report. As I say, there is some, as yet, unplayed-out contention as regards what we might say and that is why I am being a little bit coy on that matter. On the other hand, there was something that I also wanted to address concerning what you were saying. I do not want to, as it were, mis-state what I think you are saying but you seem to be saying: do not overly-stress on the pure science in what you are going to say. I wanted to point out that this was not at all our intention; our intention is to stress the importance of the diversity of science; it is a whole spectrum of different sorts of science—and all of them are valued. We quite like the idea of an "ecosystem of science"—with different parts affecting other parts. If you let one part perish or get ill, that will affect other parts. So we take a very holistic view of science, in which all sorts of different things are valued. When it comes to the targeted or more thematic kind of research, I think you will find that we are probably going to be advocating a different stance there, if you were listening to the recommendation about grand challenges. We much prefer the idea of identifying problems, articulating the problems that are there and trying to, as it were, attract scientists into them in a more positive way rather than pushing them by means of funding mechanisms. The notion of grand challenges has played out really rather well in some other countries—there was the Lund conference and we were quite inspired by that. I do not want you to get the idea that this is all about basic research, and if I gave that impression that was wrong. Having said that, though, the call for evidence is up on the web and what you will find there is that many of the Fellows of the Royal Society who wrote in were very concerned that in this ecosystem the oxygen for intellectual, curiosity-driven research might be cut off; that if there were more cuts around, then that would be the area that would get targeted. So this is, perhaps, addresses that part of your question. Then, my Lord, what you asked to us what we have heard in our discussions on the differences concerning venture capital between the USA and the United Kingdom. We also noted that very often the leaders in innovation in the United States are actually of British origin. I do not want to give a sense of gloom and doom. Some of the case histories in our report illustrate how well things can go as well; so for instance Richard Friends' Plastic Logic is a very good story about how things can be picked up and developed. On the whole, I would say that our report is good news, I would like to think, not bad news.

  Chairman: There are three people very keen to come in.

  Q465  Lord Krebs: I will be very brief, my Lord Chairman. Both of you stressed in your introductory statements the importance of investing in people as opposed to trying to pick winners, and I just wondered whether you saw any contradiction or incompatibility between your emerging conclusions and what the Government Chief Scientific Adviser told us in the memorandum that he submitted saying that research council budget allocations reflect strategic government priorities more strongly than before. In other words, he is saying that the Government is pushing research councils to fund areas of strategic significance. Is that, in any sense, in contradiction to your conclusions?

  Professor Dame Janet Finch: I cannot answer for him but I do not think so. Our recommendations are not about the immediate decisions on next year's funding allocations but about the general direction of travel. We do feel that there is, as Sir Martin has said, a sense of danger, at the moment, about the position of the UK's research standing because of a different sort of much bigger potential global competition coming further down the line. Even the United States is worried about this. The excellent report entitled Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which the Committee will probably be familiar with, produced in 2007 for the US Congress, makes it very clear that the US sees its position as the global research leader, threatened not immediately but over a decade by the emergence of India and China, in particular, as being scientific players, and for the UK the scale of this country's research activities is so much smaller and would only ever be so much smaller on its own by comparison with India, China and the United States. So we think that we need to be positioning ourselves over the next decade to be the place where the really best people want to come from elsewhere, and that that is the only basis on which we can sustain a longer-term position. That plus collaboration with others, and we can perhaps get on to that point a bit later.

  Q466  Lord May of Oxford: Reports like both your reports have been made again and again over the last 40 years or more and in other countries, and not very different from the things you have said. I am afraid that is a rather critical comment but it expresses a worry. At the heart of one of the things you have said quite explicitly is the worry: if you are going to be thinking about where we stand in the world you do not say things like: "We are number two to the US"; you ask about where you stand in relation to the size of the UK. If you do that, we are ahead of the US and neither of us are in the top half-dozen. I find that in itself was a slightly worrying thing. The essence is how you perform, not even how much is spent. The thing we can be number one in is what we get for what we spend, and we are drifting backwards as we spend more. My question is this: I worry that, at the same time as France, Germany and Japan (who were very low in the league for performance per capita and in spend) have looked to how we used to run things and improved, we are moving backward by increasingly adopting this turgid management battle stuff and setting priorities rather than just trusting the best people to do it. We have seen the fraction of responsive-mode grants drifting down from 50 per cent to 25 per cent. My question is: why do your reports not say more about this instead of going in the wrong direction?

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: Could I respond to both, because they do fit together quite nicely. Starting at the end and working backwards, maybe—

  Q467  Lord May of Oxford: More crisply, if you could, than I just was.

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: Oh. Okay, I shall try and speak in little sound-bites. When I took on this study I was very fearful that it might just indeed be another report and that I would expend, probably, the best part of a year, it would go on a shelf and have no effect. That is always hanging over me as a fear. There are two things that I think argue that it will not do that. The first is timing: it is a very good time to bring out a report like this; a lot of things are in the air and we think that we can influence those things that are in the air now and, also, because these are ideas that, we hope, will be good for the next 20-25 years. So that is the way that we are hoping it will go. The other thing I would say is, if you look down the membership of the panel, it was said, when we got into the Council room of the Royal Society, that there has probably never been quite such a gathering of people there since World War 2. With your experience you may wish to deny that, but that is what was said. It is a very high-powered panel and we hope that this will also help it to have impact. As regards the parameters that I cited, I hope that it was implicit—it certainly is explicit in the report—that the way we have been performing is really enhanced by the fact that we have such a small population and we are doing so well. So the factor of size, as it were, will be very much brought out. I still do not think that we are number one; we are number one in some regards—

  Q468  Lord May of Oxford: We were number one in what we got for what we spent, because we were spending less. It was as much because we were spending less than that we were producing more. However, as we have spent more we have seen others improving against us fast.

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: We have. I was holding that comparison.

  Q469  Lord May of Oxford: We should not be doing what we usually do and focusing on not trying to second-guess where we are going and trying, on the other hand, just to—

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: Let me come to the other part, and possibly the major part, of the question. This is about funding people and what that might come to. I will begin with the way the RS began to see this. In the first instance the aspect that worried us most about people in research was young people and their career trajectories. Clearly, many people seem to be opting out of science for bad reasons, and that is because the right pathways did not seem to be there. I have not yet seen the final data on this so I am still being a little bit coy about this, but there will certainly be recommendations in there to invest in young people. We hope that there will be, more PhD students, if possible. But also that there will be better training for the PhD students. Our PhD students are beginning to look a little lacking in extra skills compared to students on the continent, for instance. I have seen this in the international reviews for the research councils. I hope, also, that there will be some more investment for the fellowships. So if you invest more in people like this, it may mean that, at the end of the day, there will be a little less money to go in projects. That is probably how we will have to go. But we seem to be very clear in our study that we wish to invest in people, and especially young people.

  Q470  Lord Cunningham of Felling: There is nothing new about the complaint that there is an apparent dislocation between venture capital in this country and the performance of our scientists, engineers and technologists; in my early days in the House of Commons 40 years ago, the then Select Committee on Science and Technology carried out an inquiry on that very issue. We are hearing the same point being made now about this dislocation, this failure, to take as much advantage as we might from the excellent work being done in this country in science and technology. What are your respective reports going to say to the Government about this? What have you to tell us about what we should be saying to Government about it?

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: You never really got your chance to respond to the recommendation. Would that be all right, my Lord Chairman?

  Q471  Chairman: On the topic?

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: Yes, it is that topic.

  Dr Wilsdon: We have been looking hard at this. As you say, it is not a new debate—a lot has been said. With respect to the short, sharp review that Hermann Hauser is now undertaking for Lord Mandelson, we have taken great interest in that question, and the choice there is, really, whether one feels the system as is, the measures that were put in place following the Lambert review, to support knowledge transfer, the TSB and other transfer mechanisms, are sufficient and can be tweaked around the margins to improve the flow, with other mechanisms to encourage the flow of venture capital through the markets, or whether some kind of new intermediate structures are required. This debate about the Fraunhofer model and whether it is applicable to the UK is one that I would say is live within the advisory group of this project. We have not reached a resolution on it. The Hermann Hauser report is trying to report, I believe, in the first week of March, so we will know fairly quickly what conclusions he comes to.

  Professor Dame Janet Finch: The report we have been discussing this morning, my Lord Chairman, does not have any recommendations about venture capital in it.

  Q472  Lord Broers: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the UK's system for setting priorities for publicly-funded research, including the principles and criteria applied? What changes, if any, are you suggesting?

  Professor Dame Janet Finch: I think the strengths of the existing system are evident in the success relative to other countries' research systems. We have a mature system, as far as setting research priorities are concerned; the Government works with other agencies, and scientists themselves have a good input into the programme. We have a good environment in which research takes place and we have a competitive culture that enables us to identify what are the most promising areas. So I think there is a great deal that is right about the system. Obviously, the increased funding over the last decade has helped. So I think there is a, basically, sound system for setting research priorities in this country. However, I think we see three weaknesses, two of which were probably referred to in an earlier answer to the question. The weak business pull-through on the research basis is one of the weaknesses that we see, and, associated with it, the lack of clarity in setting policy for government priorities for supporting business development. Those two areas we see as weakness; I am happy to say more about those but I have referred to them in an earlier answer. The third area we have not referred to. In our report we are likely to argue that one of the weaknesses at the present time is the lack of incentive for collaborations within our research system—collaborations between researchers. That is collaborations within the UK and international collaborations. Of course, they happen—they happen all the time on an individual project basis—but we think that in the kind of rather more dangerous, global environment that we are moving into for competition with other new countries entering the arena, in terms of the leading science and the leading scientists, the UK has, perhaps, been too successful in setting up systems which are highly competitive between different groups and in different universities and research institutes and not had sufficient incentives for collaboration at the highest level and the leading edge of research at large-scale collaborations. We believe that that is something that needs now to have some attention paid to it and that government needs to think through quite carefully how to create new incentives for large-scale collaborations at the highest level of research without, of course, blunting the competitive edge of research that has served us so well.

  Q473  Chairman: Is there an RS view on this?

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: Oh yes, yes. It would come, typically, in four parts, but I will try and develop the first part a little bit and then be very quick on the three remaining parts, because I have really touched on those already. The thing that I have not touched on so far is interdisciplinary research in the United Kingdom, and the fact that the landscape of research councils does not necessarily favour interdisciplinary research that well. To give you a little idea of what I am talking about here, take the case of synthetic biology, which was something on which I have worked for EPSRC a little. This involves, in the first instance, some engineering; actually, also, some computer science and some mathematics and, of course, quite a lot of life science as well. I was able to see that you could only ever go at the speed of the slower of the research councils. It was quite a slow, painful business to get there but there was an awful lot of goodwill, I should say. But the way things are structured at the moment does not really favour interdisciplinary research that much. For instance, the sort of area in which some of our recommendations will go will be probably to enhance the role of that umbrella "RCUK", with perhaps a little bit more money being held back by them for interdisciplinary research, so that they can act a little bit more quickly. If I could add, also, just parenthetically, my own experience, when I have been abroad speaking with people from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft in Germany and the Russian Foundation for Basic Science, they were always a little bit perplexed by our research councils' structure: If there was an RCUK that was a lot more visible as an overarching, unifying structure that would help them greatly. They really are a little bit dismayed by the way things look sometimes. That then leads me to the other points, on which I shall be quite brief now. International strategy—again, you can see what I have just said there—means that it is quite difficult sometimes for other countries to interact with our science. Again, we foresee an enhanced role for RCUK there, but we are going to certainly need a proper international strategy. I think I said something about this in our chapter 2, and what Janet said has really covered it. So I do not feel that I need to labour that any more. Concerning the way we fund things, though, I would like to see, as I say, a greater use of the grand challenge approach to themes of science. I think that will probably be more attractive and productive with scientists. If you make it attractive then they might well be much more happy to go that way.

  Q474  Lord Broers: Can I ask the two supplementaries here? The first is the standard question: how should a balance be struck between responsive-mode and targeted research, and what criteria and principles should be involved? To add to that: to what extent is research spend across government departments and research councils co-ordinated, and to what extent should it be? I would like to add a final comment on the responsive-mode. It has always struck me that we are sort of paranoid about this, and that a tiny increase in directed research means that the end is coming for pure science, which of course is a load of rubbish. I think there should be a balanced approach, but do you think there is a balanced approach in how we set the priorities?

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: Can I start then with government science spend outside the ring-fence? A thing I did not tell you (but I did not tell you everything about the Fruits of Curiosity), was we had a number of extra meetings outside our advisory group meetings, and one of them was with the PSREs. I was really quite impressed, on the one hand, by the breadth of different kinds of applied science that were going on there. On the other hand, I was also mindful that there did not seem to be much co-ordination, and I thought things could be done quite a lot better. The science, I thought, was often quite inspiring. So, again, a probable line of recommendation will be that we would like to see some kind of government review of the way things are done. So that would be to respond to that part of your question. Now coming to the other part, which was really about responsive-mode, there are two things I would like to say. The first is that I think the level of responsive-mode actually is important. In some of the research councils, for one reason and another, levels of success dipped to 9 and 8 per cent. Certainly in my community (I am a mathematician) there is not that much funding from anywhere else, and when it gets to that low level people really begin to lose confidence in the system. We then had a meeting at the Royal Society with the learned societies and with, in this case, the EPSRC. It was very productive, everyone understood each other's problems and things got quite a lot better. But the level of responsive-mode funding does matter in some sectors of the community very much indeed. I think the chemists were particularly worried about this matter, too. However, your question was also about the role of responsive-mode funding and that fits in with some of the things I have been saying about the Fruits of Curiosity study. This is a very good way to fund excellence in individuals. When you see a good proposal coming from an excellent individual, that is a great way to fund winning people. So I think we like responsive-mode but, I would agree with you, it is part of a balanced package: projects of research or themed or targeted research would be very good ways of training young people as well. So I think we like the balance, but things dipped a little on the responsive-mode, and that worried us a lot.

  Professor Dame Janet Finch: The CST report does not have a view on the balance between responsive and directive-mode. In a way it is a rather similar approach to the one that Lord Broers articulated. We think the language gets in the way here: responsive-mode equals basic science and directive equals applied is, quite clearly, not true. So we do not have anything particularly to say on that. We do have something to say on one of the other questions which was implicit in what you said, Lord Broers, which is the balance between funding for different research councils or a different spectrum in the research base. We do think it is a proper role for government and the agencies that act on behalf of the government, at the highest level of generality—not at a project level—to keep an eye on the balance of funding for different disciplines. The fact is there are some disciplines that can access funding from a variety of sources much more than others. The biomedical sciences and life sciences area has multiple sources of funding, that is fine, we are all delighted at that and this country has benefited hugely from it. However, it does mean that physical sciences, for example, and social sciences, which do not have a similar range of potential and large funders, in relative terms, have less access to research. It follows logically from the fact that we believe that the breadth of the research base should be preserved and developed in this country on a strong base that the proper role for government and its agents, in making sure that all disciplines are fully supported, may mean some rebalancing over time and, at different points in time, different sorts of rebalancing in favour of disciplines which have been relatively under-funded at a given point in time.

  Q475  Lord Oxburgh: Do either of your groups feel that there is any scope in the UK for a DARPA-type approach, which has actually been rather successful in permitted areas in the United States? Are you familiar with that?

  Professor Dame Janet Finch: No, I am not.

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: I am not.

  Q476  Lord Oxburgh: I think, in that case, we will scrub the question! But I am shocked that you have not heard of it.

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: I have heard of DARPA.

  Dr Wilsdon: Yes, we are aware, obviously, of DARPA and following with interest the ARPA-E initiative, using the new US stimulus money. Again, this is the debate that we have within the advisory group about the extent to which what is required at this point is a modest rebalancing of bits of the system that could work better, or whether what is required are new institutions. I think, looking at the wider funding climate and the context within which the next spending round is going to take place, we have thus far (although our recommendations are still pending) pulled back from calling for large, new institutional innovations within the system. This is a choice that, clearly, you will confront as a Committee.

  Lord Oxburgh: ARPA and DARPA were large institutions.

  Lord May of Oxford: DARPA is explicitly a defence department funding, and the answer why we do not have it is because the Ministry of Defence does not see the point.

  Lord Oxburgh: But the style—

  Lord May of Oxford: You are talking about the style.

  Lord Oxburgh: I am talking about the style; that is why I said "ARPA or DARPA".

  Chairman: If we are all very disciplined we will not run too far over time with one more question.

  Q477  Lord May of Oxford: Once again, it is a pretty pertinent question. Given that impact is coming in for consideration and driving the drift away from responsive-mode, to what extent, how, and at what stage of the process do you evaluate the impact of research? How do you evaluate its impact prospectively and retrospectively?

  Professor Dame Janet Finch: I am sympathetic. The CST report does not specifically address the question that Lord May poses. Some of the other work that we have done is closer to it. I think if I put those things together we would see the impact of research as being quite broad, so we are not just talking about economic impact, we are talking about impact on public policy, for example. We are also talking about the impact of producing highly educated people who transfer knowledge and support various aspects of our society and the economy in different ways. So we think that any assessment of impact needs to take into account that breadth. On your question of whether impact should be assessed prospectively, I have already said that the view of the CST is that there should not be any principle other than excellence in the identification of research projects to be funded on the upstream level.

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: We did not consider the assessment of impact in Fruits of Curiosity but we did sort of consider the ways in which science has impacts. So I shall take that as my platform to reply to Lord May's question. Of course, we think that the impact of science and innovation—

  Q478  Lord May of Oxford: I hope I am right that it is proposed that impact be part of the assessment.

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: I know where you are coming from, but I am just talking about the Fruits of Curiosity. I am coming on to that. We think that the impact of science and innovation should be greatly valued, and you see that from our terms of reference actually, and it should be highly cherished. I think we will cite very early on Bacon's quote that "science should be used for the relief of man's estate". Science, we believe, has all sorts of benefits that are often underestimated: iPods, cash machines, people even accept too easily the benefits of medical health. The understanding of the benefits of science are not really all that fully appreciated by the public and more should be made of that, and that will be in our report. In terms of the timing it can take for things to have impact: in my own rarefied world, I might say, of pure mathematics, things can take 50 or 100 years to have impact, and in the world of the medical science, I think, the MRC and Wellcome say it can take 20/25 years to have impact. So we note that there is a caution on time there. Another caution is that often, when you fill a grant out, they might ask you what you think the likely impact is going to be of your research, and I would say that scientists are often very poor judges of the likely impact that their research is going to have. One case that leaps to my mind is the case of Rutherford who was asked about his nuclear work and he said, "Oh, anyone who talks to you about the possibility of it having a use for energy manufactures is talking absolute moonshine", and then there was also Faraday who, when asked about the value of his work on electro-magnetism by Gladstone, said, "Oh, I don't see any application of it at the moment, but, when we do find one, you will surely wish to tax it". So you do not really ask scientists, I do not think, or at least the purer kinds of scientists, what the benefits are necessarily going to be. In terms of the Fruits of Curiosity and their view of impact, I would want to stress that the breadth and variability. The REF kind of impact, which I think is where Lord May is coming from, looks rather prescriptive to us, and I have tried to stress the different kinds of impact that science has on people's lives. Another caution would be that different subjects have a different kind of half-life in both to when things bear fruit, even to when they are read in journals. So the idea that you put some magic number, 25 per cent or something like that, across the board seems very, very strange. I would also say that there are some areas, pure mathematics, for instance, where often the benefits are to the secure exchange of information, and cryptography. So, if people know about the value of the impact, then it actually has not worked very well as it was not as secure as you had hoped. So again that is another caution about measuring impact. Value impact, yes, but prescriptive measurements of it is a bad idea, we think.

  Q479  Lord May of Oxford: So this thing of how should the assessment affect the prioritisation of research, you are essentially saying that it should not?

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: Yes, I have tried to be diplomatic on that.

  Q480  Chairman: Well, on a note of diplomacy, thank you very much indeed for giving us your time and your written evidence. Could I ask you to submit any other written comment you think appropriate perhaps on the topics that we were not able to cover and, if there are any issues that you feel you did want to raise which have not been raised, please let us have something in writing. Thank you very much.

  Professor Dame Janet Finch: We are happy to do that.

  Professor Sir Martin Taylor: Thank you very much.



 
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