Thursday, 21 February 2008

REF: The verdict

The division in the way that science and humanities subjects are to be judged and the tight timescale in which the framework is to be implemented have emerged as the top concerns in the responses to the REF consultation.

Nick Dusic, director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering is quoted as saying, "The REF should retain an element of peer review to minimise any undesirable effects of metrics and to assess research outputs that cannot be quantified with a metric".

REF to cause reshuffle?

Research undertaken by Cranfield University suggests that the new Research Excellence Framework could cause significant hierachial changes to the order currently generated from the Research Assessment Exercise.

The research council funded exercise took all research submissions for the 2001 RAE and determined citation counts using the methodologies laid out in the REF consultation. The study found that there is a good correlation in six out of 28 subjects, but 13 have a weak correlation and 9 showed no correlation at all. Individual universities' performance was examined in two science subjects (chemistry and a branch of engineering) and large differences were found.

In the in depth chemistry analysis, University of Surrey and Swansea University dropped dramatically, where as Northumbria University showed a great improvement.

HEFCE has dismissed the study and a spokesman is quoted by THES as saying, "It only takes into account only four publications per researcher; it makes no allowance for variation in citation between sub-disciplines; and it presents the outcomes as summary grades rather than quality profiles."

EPSRC follows belt-tightening trend

Following in the footsteps of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (ATHC) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has warned researchers to expect a "slight reduction in real terms in the level of research volume over the period".

However, in contradiction with AHRC and STFC, THES is quoting Catherine Coates, EPSRC's director of planning and communication, as saying that the cuts were "nothing to do with" the additional financial burden posed by having to meet more of the "full economic costs" of grants that the councils fund.

Bioscience 2015

The Prime Minister has asked Sir David Cooksey to chair a mid-term review of Bioscience 2015, a report on bioscience, innovation and growth published in 2003. Sir David has said that "There have been some notable successes... However, where we have not made progress is the financing of bioscience companies."

How to boost your ratings

THES has published an article outlining the ways in which a researcher could increase their research ratings by manipulating citation counts within the proposed REF. Several senior academics have suggested ways in which citation counts could be increased, including:
  • Not citing anyone else's research
  • Not publishing in low citation rate journals
  • Not engaging in research which is in a field not covered by the Thomas Scientific database as the output will not be visible
  • Not reporting negative results as they are unlikely to be cited
  • Joining a citation club

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

How should science be funded?

EducationGuardian reports on a new book called 'Sex, Science and Profits by Terence Kealey, vice-chancellor of the private Buckingham Unversity. In it, Kealey puts the view forward that 'science is not a public good to be funded, but the evolved product of the competitive, selfish, property-and-sex obsessed instincts that make us human', adding that there are both individuals and companies queuing up to invest in all kinds of science.,,2252331,00.html

Friday, 1 February 2008

AstraZeneca views 2008 with caution

The Guardian reports that AstraZeneca have expressed caution about the year ahead, posting an expected 4% drop in full-year operating profit to $8.1bn. Excluding costs from restructuring and the 2007 acquisition of MedImmune, operating profits for the year were up 8%.

Public engagement endeavours should be rewarding

Jack Stilgoe (Demos) follows up on the comments from John Denham about the importance of rewarding public engagement. The article for THES describes a scientific community in which public engagement in now encouraged, using the launch of the 'Beacons for Public Engagement' as an example, but as yet unrewarded. The proposed REF with its narrower focus is cited as a hinderance to increasing levels of public engagement work.

A committee now with added "science"

The Universities and Skills Committee is to become the Innovation, Universities, Sciences and Skills Committee after the Government agreed to a name change, following the last report from the now non-existent Science and Technology Committee suggesting that any subsequent committee should have "science" in the title.

Anyone here who can innovate?

The THES reports that the Royal Society believes that the Government's desire for an innovation-based economy may be unfulfilled if the amount of UK students undertaking science PhDs does not increase. This follows a Royal Society report which shows the proportion of doctorates being awarded to UK students has decreased by nearly 10% in the last 10 years.

The report makes the following key suggestions:
  • Reduction of fees for certain subjects
  • Introduction of more bursaries
  • Better promotion of science as a career option
  • Introduction of an 8-year study period from start of first degree to PhD completion
  • Detailed review of employer needs to inform study of STEM subjects in Universities
  • More emphasis on a collaborative approach to learning