Defend the University, Defend Science.

Right now, Irish excellence in scientific research and education is diminishing. The current government seems intent on dismantling the university system– where the vast majority of the scientific research and higher education is conducted.

The country is brimming with young, talented, driven people that are drawn to the rewards that a career in research and/or teaching can offer: making new discoveries; educating the public; embodying the ‘smart’ in Ireland’s smart society. Unfortunately, a career in science will be short-lived for the majority of new postgraduates in today’s Ireland. Openings for permanent jobs are few and far between; even the prospects for postdoctoral (temporary) work are becoming slimmer and less sustainable.

Compare the goals of the Researchers Careers and Mobility Conference between 2005: “To explore the role of the postdoctoral researcher, and its place in the development of a research career” and 2013: “Preparing Doctoral Candidates for the Future … Experience from schemes that train doctoral candidates entirely/partly in industry … Getting doctoral graduates into employment in industry or other employment sectors.”
Has Ireland given up on research as a career?

Furthermore, postgraduate research degrees are being combined with business studies and scientific research proposals are required to have a direct impact on industry. Let industry perform its own product feasibility studies! University research is for exploring new realms of thought, and for expanding the boundaries of what is considered physically possible. The pursuit of science can unite people, inspire them, and improve quality of life.

Let us maintain our universities’ positive influence on society, and save Irish science excellence.

Visit http://defendtheuniversity.ie/ and sign the petition to maintain the Irish university as a bastion for excellent scientific education and research.

-Paul A. Higgins

An Embarrassing Rant by the Minister for Research and Innovation

Over the last few days, we have had the opportunity to hear Minister Sherlock’s interview on Science Calling (before the audio files were subsequently removed). In a petty tone, Sherlock delivered condescending answers to interviewer, Maria Delaney, as he dismissed the complaints of the research community. According to the interview, Sherlock is convinced that those concerned citizens speaking out about Irish science funding policy have not done their homework. I hope that LoveIrishScience blog posts (1, 2) demonstrate that we have actually read the literature.
He went on to compare researchers to children and accuse them of spreading lies about government science policy.

In reference to the Chief Science Advisor (CSA) office being abolished, Sherlock called this a non-issue and asked Delaney what the role of the office actually is. She replied that the CSA advises the government on science policy. Sherlock said that this is false, but as he spoke, the official CSA website stated:
“The Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser was established in 2004 to provide the Government with independent, expert advice on issues related to public science policy.”

Interestingly, the website was subsequently updated, coincidentally right after the interview. All of the information about the role of the CSA was removed from the home page. My guess is that the government does not actually know what the role of the CSA is supposed to be. Here is the google-cached link so you can compare the two versions of the website.

I guess while they are at it, they should update their Dept. of Jobs website that states, “In addition, the Chief Science Advisor provides independent advice to Government on any aspect of Science, Technology and Innovation.”- since, the CSA is no longer independent, and provides advice on every aspect of STI, except policy, apparently.

Incase they edit the website before you get a chance to read it, here is the google-cache link.

If you do not like the way that Irish science policy is going, please sign our petition to Minister Sherlock that addresses many of the topics discussed in the interview.

-Paul A. Higgins

Petition to the Irish Govt. is LIVE on Change.org

We have drafted a petition to the Irish government which we have just posted on Change.org. Taking input from the science community and the public, we have identified four points that the Irish government should address.

I, the undersigned, request of the Irish government:

1. Not to cut the science budget, which is already well below the European Union’s goals, relative to GDP and GNP.

2. Restore fundamental research to Ireland’s priorities by amending the 14 priority areas that are specified in the NRPE document to include fundamental research as one of the areas.

3. Maintain the IRC as a source of funding for fundamental research, and increase its budget, allowing it to fund continuing postdoctoral research and collaborative research projects.

4. Restore the Chief Science Adviser post as an independent adviser to the government on issues related to public science policy.

If you agree with the petition, please sign it.

The full text of the petition letter:

To: The Deparment of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation (Minister Sean Sherlock & Minister Richard Bruton & Main Department)

I, the undersigned, petition the Government to recognise that science is vital to Ireland and to not reduce the support for both fundamental and applied scientific research.

Firstly, I would like to note appreciation for the continuing government efforts to fund scientific research and see this as essential to Ireland’s economic recovery.

However, the current distribution of funding marginalises the fundamental sciences (e.g., pure maths, evolutionary biology, astronomy, particle physics, geophysics, etc.). Fundamental research is part of a knowledge ecosystem that links universities to industry and to Irish society as a whole. Fundamental research underpins applied research, which leads to industry links – these areas are all connected and cannot produce results alone.

The Forfás National Research Prioritisation Exercise (NRPE) report recommends funding research in 14 commercially-focused areas. In addition, it recommends support for Ireland’s growing reputation in fundamental research. Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has excluded important areas of fundamental research from its remit since the publication of the NRPE. The majority of Irish Research Council (IRC) science funding (a fraction of SFI’s budget) is open to fundamental research, but there is fear that the IRC could eventually follow suit.

Lastly, since the Office of the Chief Science Adviser was recently abolished, Ireland has lost its primary independent voice on scientific matters. The duties of the CSA have been transferred to the Director General of SFI, who already has a significant workload and will not be in a position to devote the required time to high-level science policy matters. This change also gives the potential for a major conflict of interest.

I, the undersigned, request of the Irish government:

1. Not to cut the science budget, which is already well below the European Union’s goals, relative to GDP and GNP.

2. Restore fundamental research to Ireland’s priorities by amending the 14 priority areas that are specified in the NRPE document to include fundamental research as one of the areas.

3. Maintain the IRC as a source of funding for fundamental research, and increase its budget, allowing it to fund continuing postdoctoral research and collaborative research projects.

4. Restore the Chief Science Adviser post as an independent adviser to the government on issues related to public science policy.

I believe this will provide a more balanced and unbiased approach to research and the acquisition of new knowledge for the benefit of our nation.

Sincerely,
[Your name]

Results of the RIA Science Funding Debate

Last month a debate was held at the Royal Irish Academy to address the issues being raised by the research community, regarding recent changes to government policies for science funding. Members of the government (e.g., Minister Sean Sherlock), funding bodies (e.g., SFI & IRC), and the leading members of the research community came together to voice their opinions on topics such as the recent push for funding prioritisation of research areas.

There was limited coverage on Twitter and in the press.

Irish Times Article – “Uncertainty expands when there is a vacuum of trust”

ResearchResearch.com Article – “Academics and agencies discuss funding concerns”

The Royal Irish Academy, who hosted the event, has just published its report summarising what was discussed.

The conclusions state, “There was an acknowledgement that the system has been transformed, and of the importance of the human capital. There was a concern to establish balance across the system on the basis of the very broad value of the full range of research to our society and also recognition that there is not, currently, a national strategy for research in place.”

The head of the RIA, Luke Drury has simultaneously offered a personal assessment of “Publicly Funded Research” in Ireland, partially in response to the funding debate.

He writes, “This article draws on my experience of the recent dialogue meeting on national research funding and reflects the views of myself and the Academy officers. It was obvious by the end of that meeting that gaps are opening up in the funding system and that there is a lack of any joined-up top-level vision for the national research system as well as a dearth of evidencebased policy implementation.”

LoveIrishScience Flyer: SFI Excludes Research for Knowledge in Funding Remit

LoveIrishScience has decided to release this flyer as Science Foundation Ireland announces Agenda 2020. The research community continues to express frustration and explain that the document will damage science, as 100% of SFI funding will be focused on the 14 priority areas listed on our flyer. The SFI Summit continues today, with research prioritisation being discussed this morning.

LoveIrishScience flyer on research prioritisation.
Click for PDF version.

Upcoming LoveIrishScience Planning Meeting – 5-Nov-2012

On Monday the 5th of November, there will be a LoveIrishScience meeting in the Lecture Room of the SNIAM Building at TCD from 15:30-17:00.

This meeting will follow from the 31-Oct-2012 meeting, where we planned our public talk (ASGI, Nov. 9th) and decided how to break down the work between us. On Monday’s meeting we will combine the slides created by each person and polish the talk.

We will also try to define some objectives for LoveIrishScience, as far as what we want the government to actually do. These objectives will form the talks conclusion and hopefully spur discussion in the audience.