Variety in Science Grants to Benefit Research

Chemistry World has recently reported on a study into the effectiveness of the allocation of grant money to the scientific community.

The study, conducted by David Currie and Jean-Michel Fortin, biologists at the University of Ottawa, Canada, found that a series of smaller grants to a wider variety of people and institutions is more conducive to effective and meaningful research than large grants to the ‘elite’ in the scientific community. The conclusions of Currie and Fortin indicate that an increased monetary grant does not increase productivity.

Highly cited studies are seemingly unaffected by the level of funding received. The impact generally comes down to the quality of the researchers, regardless of career stage. Some more experienced scientists could have larger grants but less time to perform studies due to other commitments, such as teaching, and so cannot fully use the grant money. It would therefore be better to disseminate the money to a wider variety of researchers so that more diverse research could be performed.

Essentially, the money from grants is better used to improve the scientific community as a whole, rather than for the benefit a few specific areas of research. By funding the elite institutions, it is probably that the vitality and variety of scientific thought will be significantly dulled.

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A New Way of Delivering Drugs to the Brain

As reported by the BBC, scientists at the University of Oxford have developed a breakthrough way of delivering drugs to the brain.

One of the main challenge when it comes to diseases of the brain is getting treatment across the blood-brain barrier and it is hoped that this new development could be key in treating diseases such as Parkinson’s, Muscular Dystrophy and Alzheimer’s.

The team of scientists at the University of Oxford used exosomes from mouse dentritic cells to cross that barrier. Studies found a 60% reduction in gene’s activity and it is hoped that the method could be modified to treat other conditions across the body. Lead Researcher, Dr Matthew Wood stated,  “We are working on sending exosomes to muscle, but you can envisage targeting any tissue. It can also be made specific by changing the drug used.”

Research will now test the treatment on mice with Alzheimer’s and see if their condition changes. It is hoped that trials will begin on human patients within  five years.

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British Science Citations on the Up

iStock_000006963239Medium1-300x299As reported by The Times Higher Education, the average number of science citations gained by British research papers is almost as high as those by the US.

The research was conducted by Thomason Reuters and ranked countries in 20 science subjects. Conclusions were based on the amount of times each paper produced in that country was cited between 2005 and 2009. The UK saw impressive results – ranking first in six scientific disciplines and no lower than third in any other.

David Pendlebury, citation analyst at Thomson Reuters stated, UK has really improved in research performance in the past decade.”

Read more at The Times Higher Education website.


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Scientists Give Advice to England Footballers

Scientists Give Advice to England FootballersAs reported by the Independent, scientists have been busy researching the best way England Footballers can score a perfect penalty shoot out during the World Cup.

Researchers have found that one of the main hurdles facing footballers in a penalty shoot-out scenario is the high-stress situation. Scientists found that the tense atmosphere may result in the footballer to focus more on the goalkeeper- thus unwittingly aiming the football at them. Therefore scientists advice footballers to make a point of focusing on a spot in the goal where they want the ball to go and then kick accordingly – simple really.

Speaking of the research, Greg Wood, a Sports Psychologist at the University of Exeter stated, “During a highly stressful situation, we are more likely to be distracted by any threatening stimuli and focus on them, rather than the task in hand.

“In a stressful situation, a footballer’s attention is likely to be directed towards the goalkeeper, as opposed to the optimal scoring zones just inside the post. This disrupts the aiming of the shot and increases the likelihood of subsequently hitting the shot towards the goalkeeper, making it easier to save.”

The study investigated the eye movements of 14 footballers whilst they took penalties in both stressful and relaxing situations. The stressful sitation was emulated by offering a financial reward for the best penalty taker and by competitively ranking each of the footballers by their scores.

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Scientists Warn of UK Brain Drain

Science Jobs, Scientific Recruitment, UKAs reported on the Times Online website, the UK faces a brain drain as young scientists flee to other countries to find new science jobs.

The UK has failed to respond to recent funding in science in America, Germary and France.

  • America: $100 billion investment in science, science funding will still increase by 5.9% per year.
  • France: Investment in scientific research increased by $47 billion.
  • Germany: By 2013 an extra $16 million will be spend on science.

In a letter to The Times, 28 Fellows of the Royal Society said that strong UK investment in science is essential for the country’s economic recovery. Its signers included included Cosmochemistry pioneer Grenville Turner of the University of Manchester and Planetary Scientist Colin Pillinger of the Open University.

The scientists credited the Labor Party for doubling the spending on scientific research in the past decade. However, they were alarmed by the fact that neither the Labor, Conservative or Liberal Democrat parties have committed to maintaining funding in science beyong the UK general election on May 6th. In fact, Labor have announced cuts of more than $900 million in university research budgets, whilst the Conservatives have said that major science budget cuts were “inevitable” regardless of which party wins the election.

It is feared that if the next government plans to cut funding in science to contain its $274 billion national debt, then it is like that the UK could face a brain drain of scientific talent to the United States.

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Increase Investment in Science to Boost Economy

scienceAccording to a report by The Royal Society, if the UK does not invest heavily in science and scientific research, it will face decades of sluggish economic decline.

The report warned that Britain’s current advantage is in danger of being wiped out by the US, China, India, France and Germany who have increased spending in science to help boost their economies. For instance, the German government has said it will increase their budget for education and research by 12bn Euros by 2013.

Sir Martin Taylor, chair of the report’s advisory group stated: “As France announces a new €35bn investment in the knowledge economy, the UK cuts university budgets by £600m, with the threat of more to come.

“The UK has been in the top two of the scientific premier league for the last 350 years. It would seem obvious that politicians would recognise the need to invest in this competitive advantage rather than cutting funds.”

Lord Waldegrave, former Science Minister and provost of Eton College said: “Times are tough but this is exactly when you need to invest in the future and focus spending where you already have an advantage.

“Investment in science cannot be turned on and off on a political whim – we must have a long-term investment. If we cut science now, just as the benefits of nearly twenty years of consistent policy are really beginning to bear fruit, we will seriously damage our economic prospects.”

The report praises the fact that patents granted to UK universities have increase by 136% between 2000 and 2008, and that university spin outs employed 14,000 people in 2007/2008 with a turnover of £1.1bn. However, it seems that research and development is a weakness for the UK – in 2007 British companies spent 1.14% of GDP on R&D while in the US spent 1.9% and Germany 1.8%.

Experts in the field recommend the following to help remedy the situation:

  • Creating a 15 year framework for science and innovation with increased spending.
  • Prioritising investment in scientific skills and infrastructure, such as laboratories and equipment.
  • Better aligning science and innovation with global challenges.
  • Revitalising science and mathematics education.
  • And expanding the R&D tax credit.

Lord Sainsbury, the former science minister and member of the advisory group said: “We cannot compete with countries such as China and India on the basis of low wages, and science and innovation must, therefore, be the basis of the strategy for growth which we need to have as we go into a tough period of fiscal consolidation.”

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