Thursday, March 12

Non-funding council changes the rules

The EPSRC have announced changes in research funding.

This is seriously worrying to me. Not that it may make it harder for me to get funding - it'll probably make it not much harder but perhaps waste a bit less reviewer time. No, this indicates that the EPSRC do believe that their ranking system is really accurate and trustworthy - and thus are not listening to scientists.

The problem is that the difference in quality of grant applications is hard to judge, and that most of them will be in the middle. A really good grant writer will tend to be near the top. A poor and unsupported one will tend to be near the bottom. The majority will be in the middle.

At the point that you are in the middle, the difference between upper middle and lower middle can be tiny - the random number picked by a referee, asked to judge on a project that they have only tangential interest in. Or, worse, the arbitrary down-grading by a referee who has lost contact with a field, misunderstands, or just plays politics to sabotage a rival. So then it's down to luck whether you're in the top half or the bottom half.

Which means an eighth of the middle rankers will hit the bottom half three times in a row, on average. That the EPSRC says that this arbitrary punishment will only hit 5% of researchers suggests that they expect only a third of researchers will put in a third in two years.

This doesn't make it any easier for scientists. But it does make it easier for the bureaucrats.

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