Sir Paul Nurse seminar

‘Making Science Work’

good decisions about what research should be supported for the public good.

Wilson ‘should not be judged purely in terms of utility’. Wilson quote on how Fermi accelerator contributes to the defense of the nation ‘not the defense of the nation, except in making it worth defending’.

Multi directional continuum between applications and basic research.
focus on scientists (‘people’ not ‘projects’ * in depth knowledge + periferial vision (open to other approaches / ideas) * Creative — freedom is key to creativity, scientists resit organization. freedom uncover uncomfortable truths, freely exchange ideas.
* values: skeptical approach, especially of ones own ideas. ‘abhorence of cherry-picking’.
* Motivated: personal curiosity. desire for public good/utility

Evaluating * recent success. Not just write good proposals, but carry out good quality research.
* me -> does this feedback (success leads to support improves probability of success).
* More face to face interaction

Problem with research funding goals * do you get the good self-motivatd scientists? * ‘silver-back’ committees of elder scientists on panels may not chose the best objectives.

Haldane principle. Ideas on what science to fund and how

  • researchers and not policy makers should decide how to spend funds (politicians define overall budget and maybe goals), but not individual projects
  • High level decisions on scientific culture and not on what.
  • E.g. funder might choose which explorer and whether antartic vs. amazon, but not what specifically to exmaine or try to discover.
  • what about goal based research? More relevant on the applications scale (not exclusive, e.g. goal genome sequencing). Involve investment of economic sectors likely to benefit. Should still be person focused.
  • Better approach to change focus is to convince people this is an exciting thing to study (rather than something that will be funded). More likely to attract high quality scientists. If the research community is not inspired by the goals of the research leader maybe those goals are misplaced. 🙂
  • Closer to application = more multidisciplinary (law, economics, engineering and science). Too many barriers to the exchange of people and ideas here. Consequence of specialization.
  • More diverse placements during training.
  • Bridging the gap from discovery to application — not just need more funding. Need better bridgeheads. Goal directed research leads to ignoring the uncomfortable disagreements. Also more commitment from industry to project back into discovery.


  • demand statement about social benefit of research encourages un-useful flights of fancy.
  • Use with care. same with metrics.

giving high quality scientific advice to policy makers

  • science is a good way to knowledge (reproducible, objective, falsifability)
  • knowledge can be tentative — in early stages of reproducing / evaluation (not always socially understood)
  • know conflicting interpretations and the evidence behind them. Peer review.
  • Giving advice: e.g. global warming. extreme views such as 12C rise in temp or 0C rise. But the latter has gained much more traction: social reasons, don’t like consequences.
  • Lessons: consensus view of expert scientists. Keep science from political/ideological influence.
  • Genetic modification of crops. Consensus, safe with beneficial applications. checks should be in place – case specific, not GMO feature.
  • Lessons: failure to properly engage the public. (what scientist thought about the objection to eating DNA?) Need high quality debate in mass media. ‘Frankstein food’ killed GM food in UK.
  • which scientists should provide advice? Experts but also scientific generalists. Also peer review panels of the advice before its given. Lobby groups, groups which use bombastic approaches, personal not scientific arguments, all treated with skepticism.
  • Uncertainty should be reflected in advice.

Eric Lander.
* how can you disagree with the british accent and the idealistic view of science? * face to face “measurement of a man” yes — but our prejudices come out in these cases. To all degrees in funding people. Prejudice in funding people. * Funding decisions by researchers not politicians. study section of peers vs. the politicians. Many of us object to study sections. We don’t do experiments on how we fund science — results might be scary — do 4 study sections have any overlap?
* who decides fund chemistry / physics / bio? broader societal issues, how to chose? * RFA – targeted science. TB grows much slower the E coli, smart people may avoid hard and important. But we do it too much at present. * Infrastructure — under invest in this (e.g. genomes). Common objection: take away from R01s. RO1s are inefficient for many projects — “waste of minds”. * how to fund partly private partly public goods is difficult (public goods as in non-financially gainable).
* Us more suspicious of government and climate. UK more suspicious of industry and GM food.
* Science being increasingly cast as an interest group in the US. ‘no privileged approach to truth –then we’re in trouble.

Randall (physicist) * physics does a bad job of advertising: we don’t think of these things as physics but it’s really all physics (the stuff that works: MRI, early detection of cancer is best cure, cell phones-semi conductors-quantum physics) * data bassed policy making? look at examples of other countries. Be more comfortable with uncertainty.

Prof. Rosenberg (science historian?) “explaining epidemics”, “the cholera years”, “?problem with modern medicine” * what’s it all about, (aside being self-congratulatory, go science!). * On interdisciplinary ecology. Paradox of hierarchies: need some hierarchy for legitimacy structure etc / reconcile with the go down to the researcher * Pardox of expectations: so much is expected from science. e.g. considerations for charging more for humanities majors than science majors. (what about Wilson’s comment of worth defending?) * Paradox of allocation: limited resources.

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