Planning Meeting Minutes – 2012-10-23

These are the minutes of the planning meeting on 2012-10-23 based on this Agenda.

The overall outcome of the meeting is that there are a lot of anti-fundamental-research points laid out in the prioritisation document. The current Irish research budget reflects this. At the next meeting we will define the hard numbers of how much fundamental research is funded, and put together a talk outline for our upcoming presentations.


-We want head (chair) of IRC to be a scientist, not an industry person… Keep IRC focused on fundamental research.

-Get IRC to develop a scheme for 2nd level postdocs- >32k- should increase with inflation.
-there is no career prospects for soft money researchers in ireland.

-we are giving a talk at ASGI, nov 9th

-Giving a talk at TOG, nov 15th

Documents Discussion

Ireland budget (2011) – Aidan

2.4B in STI – govt funding (total is 7% less than 2010)
what % of total budget? 60B?
2002-2009 rises, then drops.
-Pie chart of spending in STI (education and training dropped by 17% )
–Education and training includes what funding bodies??
STI: 1.3-2% rise over last 5 yrs, -.12% drop (2010-2011)
GNP = 126B

Table of break down of R&D
HEA gets 309M (1/3 of R&D)
SFI gets…
IRC gets…
IDA, gets…

GBoard – measure of govt fundiing as % of GNP
-needs to be corrected to be more honest

Break down of research excluding HEA

GOVERD – govt expendeture on R&D excluding HEA….
-ireland is at the bottom….

applied~97% (includes agriculture etc, so not science)

Eoin – budget cont’d

8.9B -> Public Services
—-1.29B -> given to universities

50M taken from HEA, givesn to dept. of jobs (PRTLI)
HEA is driven to fund basic science/ academia. Why given to jobs??

The only basic science funding not in universities is the ~4M DIAS gets (??? is that correct?)
DIAS gets 3% of science budget, 3% of science funding is basic. Is that the same 3%??

IRC gets 23M (how much is basic/applied)

SFI is under dept of jobs. Given money for basic research? Why under jobs?

14M to ESA under Dept of jobs
How much should we be able to / have spent in Ireland of that money? ie. how much of 14M comes back into ireland?

Forfas: >2M -> 20% goes to chief science advisor. That is a lot of money just to chair a committee…

150M goes to SFI, 30 programs…
SFI 2 programs are basic science
-research frontiers
-math funding
This is completely changed now. (SFI no longer funds basic science even though it was set up to do so)

Neal – forfas research prioritisation

-focus on economic return
-focus on areas where ireland can compete internationally (economically)
-14 priority areas
-SFI now legally has to follow NRPE

-how they prioritise
-need impact w/in 5 years
-research for knowledge should occur, not mentioned in rest of document…
-acknowledge ecosystem of basic->applied
-acknowledge we should pay into large EU projects (cern, lofar)
->SFI is no longer going to fund basic science

Paul – Research prioritisation document cont’d

-accelerate impact of priority areas
-govt to restate the STI priorities
-development of metrics to judge how well things are doing, yearly assessments of research output

Points of interest
-Not just focus on publishing, need to incorporate plans to commercialise research -> how is math supposed to do that?
-Funding applications need to demonstrate adherance to 14 areas
-do cost benefit analysis on schemes -> fundamental research doesn’t work like that!
-Want to reduce over heads for writing grant applications – fund people instead of projects -> projects can fund many people, so wouldn’t funding projects decrease the amount of grant writing??
-research centers to develop industry culture and industry oriented mission -> frightening!
-Note that academic staff should be allowed to progress -> at the moment soft money academic staff have to leave their institution to progress! This is something that needs to be addressed.
-Taking money out of PHD funding and given to developing “industry phd programs” and industry driven masters.
Scary quote:
“PhD and early stage post-doctoral researchers should be able to contribute directly to enterprise creation and job creation through the comercialisation of their research” – How is math supposed to do that??

Description of the 14 areas -> no fundamental science in there!
-Anywhere there is science mentioned, it is to be combined with industry in the key action items

How areas are chosen
-competitiveness of ireland in market area
-how area can complement private sector
-reaction to a national or global challenge that ireland can respond to (that seems reasonable)

Members of the steering group committee
-mostly from industry (intel?, citi bank?!)
3 thematic working groups, none of which are knowledge-based research focused!

Diana – SFI operational plan 2013

60-80% of funding each year goes to funding previous years projects
-> decide to follow NRPE

Action Items

-(diana) look into HTML 5 for website

White Board – Planning meeting.

Agenda for next time:
-Go through making talk for ASGI
-define our goals
–describe current state of irish science funding (fundamental / applied)
-put together an info-graphic
–display the numbers

-put together a petition to government – define our argument and our demands
-publish infographic and talk as a blog post

Upcoming Planning Meeting (@ TCD)

There will be a LoveIrishScience meeting tomorrow (Tuesday Oct 23) in the SNIAM conference room of Trinity College Dublin starting at 2pm. See the mailing list for any updates. Feel free to come along if you would like to contribute to the project in any way or would like to engage in the discussion.

We will be discussing the following statistics provided by Forfas and SFI. The idea is to make sure we all have a good understanding of the numbers that are publicly available before we go gathering them for ourselves. A number of us have split up the reading and will make short informal presentations, summarising the information covered. The relevant documents are linked below:

Forfas Research Prioritisation Exercise Report

Forfas Science Budget 2010-2011

SFI Agenda 2020

SFI Operational Plan 2013

Following the summaries, we will put together our plan for the next step of the project, which will mostly likely entail contacting SFI, HEA, IRC. etc., with requests for more detailed data which were not made apparent in the above documents, or which we believe may not have been clearly presented. If we’re going to develop some sort of infographic on this information, we want to parse the data ourselves.

This is background research for the upcoming LoveIrishScience presentations at ASGI (Nov 9) and TOG Science Week (Nov 15).

After or during all this, any other topics regarding the project are of course open for discussion.

The minutes of this meeting will be published in a follow-up post.


This is an evolving document that lists talks from leading Irish scientists, talks on the current policy of science funding, and talks in support of basic research. If you have links to other interesting talks, please comment below.

Irish Science

From Fruit Flies To Cancer – Luke O’Neill at TEDxDUBLIN

Mother Nature Has The Answer: Emma Teeling at TEDxDUBLIN

Ideas, Where Do They Come From: Aoife McLysaght at TEDxDUBLIN


Collaboration, Competition, Connection – evidence of intelligent design in European science policy? – Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, European Commissioner for Research, Innovation & Science at ESOF 2012
Link to Video (10:00-30:00).

ESOF 2012 Opening Ceremony – President Michael D. Higgins
Link to Video (10:00-30:00).

In the defense of Funding Basic Science

Carl Sagan on the importance of scientific research

Jocelyn Bell Burnell on the importance of Astronomy

Brian Cox on the internet

Neil deGrasse Tyson on not politicising science

IOP Letters to SFI and the Minister for Research & Innovation Re: SFI’s Agenda 2020 / Strategy 2013 Consultation … and SFI’s Response

During Science Foundation Ireland’s call for consultation on their Agenda 2020 and Strategy 2013 documents a number of interest groups, such as the RIA Committee for Astronomy and Space Sciences, sent letters supporting funding for basic research (which appeared to be diminished in the planned SFI budgets). The institute of Physics also sent letters to both SFI and Ireland’s minister for Research and Innovation, Sean Sherlock, TD.

An except from the IOP Letter to SFI:

Science Foundation Ireland Consultation – Strategy Agenda 2020 and Operational Plan for 2013


While welcoming Science Foundation Ireland’s excellence driven agenda, the Institute of Physics calls attention to the apparent lack of any specific funding for excellent research for knowledge (frontiers research), which falls outside the 14 nominated priority research areas. The Institute suggests a specific fund, based on 10% of SFI’s annual budget to be directed towards areas not covered elsewhere in SFI’s budget.

The importance of such research is well-recognised globally as an essential part of supporting science in general and, in particular, leading to long term economic gains. Without it, Ireland runs a considerable risk of losing exceptional talent to overseas competitor nations, reputational damage to our emerging position as an innovative country, the consequent difficulty of attracting world-class researchers and industry here and the very significant demoralising effect on Irish scientists. Even 10% of SFI’s total budget is probably too small to build a competitive scientific community that can win downstream EU funding. In a wider context Ireland should invest 10% of its core science research budget of €500M annually, into basic research.

This response also includes comments on SFI’s public outreach programme and its aims to increase numbers taking science at second-level. The IOP position articulated in this response has broad support from physicists working in industry, applied research and basic research.


An excerpt from the IOP Letter to Minister Sherlock:

Re: SFI Consultation – Strategy Agenda 2020 and Operational Plan for 2013

Dear Minister

The Institute of Physics in Ireland has submitted a response to the SFI Consultation – Strategy Agenda 2020 and Operational Plan for 2013 as attached. We would like firstly to note appreciation for the continuing government efforts to fund science research and see this as essential to Ireland’s economic recovery. Within the budget given, though, we would view with some concern the marginalisation of fundamental research and would particularly ask you to note the following:

1. Research in basic physics produces graduates with significant numerical and technical skills which are in high demand by industry

2. Basic research is part of an eco-system which feeds directly into applied and translational research which lead to direct links to industry – these areas are all interlinked and cannot produce results alone

3. Fundamental physics such as the study of the origins of the universe is a significant driver of interest in science. Students are attracted to those colleges offering expertise in these areas. Colleges cannot provide this expertise without continuity of funding in the relevant research areas.

The report of the National Research Prioritisation Exercise makes clear that such research must continue to be funded along with the recommended priority areas. However it is not clear currently what government agency is tasked with this. We would very much appreciate your attention to this and would be very willing to meet at any time to discuss this further.


On Wednesday, October 17th, SFI hosted a “webinar” to discuss how the Agenda 2020 and Strategy 2013 documents would be altered, in response to input from the consultation. One of the main points is, instead of having 95% of SFI’s funding allocated to the National Research Prioritisation, leaving 5% open for proposals outside of the NRP, now 100% of proposals must fall under the NRP. SFI conceded in the presentation that pure maths is left out of these calls, but that funding for PhDs is the most essential ingredient for pure maths research. So, in response, SFI has plans to introduce a postgraduate funding scheme, where by the student will partner with industry and will likely be required to take business courses.
Listen to the webinar yourself.

CERN membership for Ireland

There is a new initiative to attain membership in CERN for Ireland. This would be a huge boost to Irish fundamental research in particle physics:

Recently the director general of CERN, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, suggested that Ireland could become a member of CERN in the near future. However, due to the ongoing austerity and lack of funds there seems to be little ambition from the Irish government to find the necessary funds. As a result, “CERN membership for Ireland” has been established to encourage everyone interested in science in Ireland to visit our Facebook page designed to promote science and research discussion in Ireland. We also encourage you to sign the petition asking the government to provide the small amount needed to advance scientific research in Ireland. Please visit the link below to take part and please forward this to interested parties particularly if you are involved in publishing or education.

Thank you,
CERN membership for Ireland.

Sign the petition.

Visit the Facebook discussion page

According to a 2008 document from the Institute of Physics,

CERN Membership Fee – Why Join Now?

The membership fee is calculated on the basis of the nation’s net national income (generally around 74% of GDP). On the basis of Irish GDP for 2004/05/06, CERN estimates an annual fee of 22.05 MCHF (approximately €13 million at current exchange rates), which is comparable to some of the larger SFI grants. Financially it is particularly opportune for Ireland to join now as the other member states and the USA have already paid for the LHC and its detectors. Informal discussions with CERN suggest that the membership cost would be phased in over a transitional period of up to five years, during which the contribution would build up from 25% to 75% of the full contribution and there would be measures to build up the national capacity in particle physics and to allow for the development of research groups in specific areas so as to obtain maximum benefit from membership. Given Ireland’s current strengths in areas such as imaging and detector systems it seems very feasible that a cluster of research groups could be significantly strengthened by CERN membership and could dovetail with existing SFI research priorities. Such clusters currently exist in the UK, for example, the John Adams Institute and the Cockcroft Institute. Researchers in Ireland have already established good links with groups in the UK, Europe and the USA and would be in an excellent position to capitalise on these connections


Over the summer it was announced, “The head of CERN has told RTÉ News that Ireland could join the project for as little as €1 million.”

A Letter to SFI from the RIA Committee for Astronomy and Space Sciences

The following letter was sent to Science Foundation Ireland from the Royal Irish Academy Committee for Astronomy and Space Sciences in response to the SFI call for consultation concerning its new Agenda 2020 and Operational Plan 2013 documents (mentioned in a previous blog post).

Dear Professor Ferguson,

I write to you as chair of the RIA Committee for Astronomy and Space Sciences,
in response to the SFI call for consultation concerning its new Agenda 2020 and
Operational Plan 2013 documents.

Our Committee has members from all 3rd level institutions (Universities and ITs)
that are active in astronomy research on the island of Ireland; our remit is to pursue
strategic and policy development in research and education within astronomy and the
space sciences on an all-Ireland basis. Hence, funding decisions made by SFI impact
very significantly on the work of our members: indeed, since the programme began
the SFI RFP has played the key role in sustaining astronomical research in Ireland.

Our Committee was originally alerted to a change in SFI funding policy earlier
this year, when it became known that several researchers had their proposals to
the Investigators Programme “administratively withdrawn” – rejected even before
evaluation – because their work did not fall under the 14 areas of prioritization
outlined by the Forfas Prioritization Report.

Our fears were confirmed by the recent SFI decision to fund only those areas falling
under the 14 prioritized ones and/or under SFI’s legal remit.

Whilst there can be no argument that the most significant levels of funding must,
as they have in the past, be provided to research that underpins areas that are likely
to provide economical benefits in the shorter term, we are deeply dismayed by the
decision to withdraw all support for basic, “blue skies” research – research that,
although of the highest standard scientifically, is deemed unsupportable because it
apparently has no immediate, direct economic benefit.

We find the strategic benefit to Ireland of a more tightly focused SFI remit difficult
to understand, especially in the context of the Prioritization Report itself which
states that “a healthy, balanced, sustainable research system supports all aspects
of the research continuum and this cannot be achieved by focusing investment on
only the applied part of the research spectrum”. We agree with the corollary of this
statement – i.e. that by more narrowly focusing its investment, SFI runs the very real
risk of creating an unhealthy and unbalanced research system. This will have serious
implications for many research areas in Ireland.

In the case of Irish astronomy, there are ~30 tenured astronomers working in Ireland,
each leading research groups of various sizes. A recent survey of this community
shows that a total of ~60 PhDs graduated, and ~13 million euro of research funding
was secured, over the last 5 years. The community is very active and retains a strong
international standing, despite that fact that, almost uniquely within Europe, Ireland
has no formal access to any astronomical observing facility.

In addition, astronomy plays an important role in outreach and the promotion of
science at 2nd and 3rd level: it is probably the research area with the greatest impact
on the public imagination, the most powerful tool at our disposal in promoting the
general public understanding of science. The astronomy community in Ireland has
always had a high level of public engagement, and the bedrock of this is the public
awareness of the research carried out by Irish astronomers.

In addition, the existence of astronomers in various Physics Departments, and the
success of the astronomy-related degree programme provided by almost every
University in the country, have resulted in the attraction of a significant cohort of
talented students to the physical sciences in 3rd level who might not otherwise have
considered these options.

Furthermore, ongoing attempts to maximise the financial return to Ireland from its
membership of the European Space Agency (via PRODEX, for example) clearly
benefit from the existence of a viable astronomical community in Ireland.
For example, as recently discussed by Minister Sherlock, “spin-off export sales
from Irish investment in ESA was €35 million per annum and is projected to grow
substantially..”. Ireland needs a well-supported space science and astronomy research
community to help fuel this growth. Such a community is a key component of
the “space science value chain” in Ireland.

Hence, the impact of Irish astronomy is multifaceted, spanning the purely
scientific, educational/outreach and industrial. However, the change in SFI funding
policy outlined above will seriously undermine each of these. Deprived of access
to some level of national funding, the community in Ireland will struggle to remain
viable and internationally competitive. Without it, Ireland will lose a key link to
ESA, NASA and indeed the Horizon 2020 space programme, and will not produce
sufficient PhD graduates to work in the nascent, but growing Irish space-related
industry: we will become less competitive and jobs will be lost to other EU nations.

In summary, we believe that it is dangerously short-sighted to deny funding from
areas such as astronomy and the space sciences (and others, such as particle physics,
pure mathematics, etc) on the basis that they provide no immediate prospect of an
economic return, without taking into account the benefits of this research to other
areas of importance to Ireland’s long term development as a knowledge based

We urge SFI to broaden its remit to enable it to continue support for fundamental
scientific research. We see no contradiction between this, and the overall agenda of
SFI, expressed by its “Excellence with Impact” motto: SFI should continue to fund
excellent science, which makes an impact. But this impact should be assessed using
several criteria, not just immediate, economic return.

With best regards

Professor Paul Callanan, Chair
Royal Irish Academy Committee for Astronomy and Space Science.