02 June 2009

ePetition on Research Councils and Economic Impact

By Editors

The following petition was posted earlier this afternoon at the Number10.gov website (by Prof. John F Allen, Queen Mary University of London). If you agree with the petition, please sign (at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/honest-discovery), and please also forward this message to any of your colleagues who may be interested. The petition opens today, 2 June, and is open until 3 October.

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to promote discovery and innovation in UK science.

We request the reversal of a policy now being applied by the UK Research Councils. This policy directs funds to projects whose outcomes are specified in advance. Science has never worked in this way, and never could. The real world is blind to our hopes, fears, and aspirations. Scientific research seeks to describe this world, replacing ignorance and error with knowledge and understanding. Where a specific outcome can be predicted with confidence, then there is no research.

Practical and economic benefits arise from scientific discoveries. Science has economic impact precisely because curiosity-driven research reveals patterns and features of the natural world that we did not know, and did not expect.

The UK taxpayer should not support investigations with foregone conclusions, however beguiling. UK research must not be guided by wishful thinking, nor relegated to producing footnotes for ground- breaking discoveries made elsewhere.

We call upon the Research Councils to return to their mission of advancing the frontiers of human understanding. Public support for science must renew its investment in discovery if it is to create prosperity and well-being."