Friday, 15 April 2011

'I'll Name that Scheme in One, Tom...'

Interesting news from the beleagured David Willetts. Research Fortnight was reporting on Tuesday that he'd asked readers of the Times to help him name the new 'British Nobel' prize (you'll need to subscribe to the Times to see the original article, here). The prize was announced in the 'Plan for Growth' at the time of the Budget in March. It's intended to kick start a buzz around engineering and science. Allegedly. The prize is likely to be awarded every two years and could be worth up to £1 million.

Now two things occurred to me about this. Firstly, at a time when small grants are being cut left right and centre, bunging £1m at one scientist every couple of years doesn't seem like a great use of public (or private endowment) funds. Wouldn't it be better to - say - fund 100 pilot projects? Or 500 young scientists to go to conferences, now that the Royal Society is cutting its funding for conference attendance?

Secondly, what is it with people asking us to name things? Willetts' request came shortly after the EC's competition to find a new name for FP8. Is this the Big Society at action in research funding? Pitch in and help, everyone! Feel involved! Though of course there's no money available at the end of it...

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