Archive for scientific research

Basic Research in Ireland

Posted in Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on March 21, 2021 by telescoper

I realised today that I hadn’t yet posted a reaction to theannouncement earlier this month by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) of a new five-year strategic plan. Although much of the document Shaping Our Future is fairly bland – as strategic plans usually are – there are some very welcome things in it.

Currently Ireland spends just 1.1% of its GDP on scientific research and development and SFI currently has a heavy focus on applied research (i.e. research aligned with industry that can be exploited for short-term commercial gain). This has made life difficult for basic or fundamental science and has driven many researchers in such areas abroad, to the detriment of Ireland’s standing in the international community.

The new strategy, which will cover the period from now to 2025, plans for 15% annual rises that will boost the agency’s grant spending — the greater part of the SFI budget — from €200 million in 2020 to €376 million by 2025. Much of this is focused in top-down manner on specific programmes and research centres but there is at least an acknowledgement of the need to support basic research, including an allocation of €11 million in 2021 for early career researchers.

The overall aim is to increase the overall R&D spend from 1.1% of gross domestic product, well below the European average of 2.2%, to 2.5% by 2025.

One of the jobs I had to do last week was to write the Annual Research Report for the Department of Theoretical Physics at Maynooth University. I am very pleased that despite the Covid-19 pandemic, over the last year we managed to score some notable successes in securing new grant awards (amounting to €1.3M altogether) as well as doubling the number of refereed publications since the previous year. This is of course under the old SFI regime. Hopefully in the next few years covered by the new SFI strategic plan we’ll be able to build on that growth still further, especially in areas related to quantum computing and quantum technology generally.

Anyway, it seems that SFI listened to at least some of the submissions made to the consultation exercise I mentioned a few months ago.

Dissembling Nature

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 16, 2011 by telescoper

Interesting that the Journal Nature is introducing a registration wall for its News pages. These pages have previously been free and, we’re told, will remain so. However, in order to access them one will now have to give a name and email address.

I heard about this On Wednesday (13th July) on  Twitter (via @NatureNews):

OK, we’ve got some news that may annoy: @NatureNews is going to start requiring registration to view some of our free news stories. (1/2)

Don’t panic! All the news is still free. We’re just going to ask for a name and an email. (2/2)

(For those of you not among the Twitterati I should point out that messages on Twitter have to be less than 140 characters long, hence the use of two tweets in this case).

My immediate reaction – and that of manyof my colleagues – is that this looks very much like the strategy pursued by the Times online edition. First introduce registration, then shortly afterwards turn it into a paywall. In the meantime can collect all the email addresses in order to send marketing spam to those who have registered.

I inquired as to what they were planning to do with the email addresses they would be harvesting in this way, but didn’t get a satisfactory reply. Then I received a message from another branch of the Nature twitter operation, @npgnews:

@telescoper Hi Peter. Thanks for your comments. We’re about to send a series of tweets in response to Nature News registration.

Being a reserved British type I was a bit annoyed by the  “Hi Peter”  from someone I don’t know and have never spoken to before, but didn’t respond. Instead I waited with baited breath for the in-depth explanation of what Nature is going to do. Eventually it came, in three tweets:

Thx for your comments about the Nature News registration system. We’re asking all readers to introduce themselves by registering once (1/3)

Registration enables free access to the Nature News content, which remains unchanged. (2/3)

We’re working hard to expand and introduce more tailored services for readers and registration is necessary for that (3/3)

To say I found this disappointing would be an understatement. What a load of flannel. Note the word “enables” in Tweet No. 2. Free access was previously enabled to everyone, but is apparently to be disabled in order to facilitate the collection of user data for some unspecified purpose. Tweet No. 3 is a masterpiece of non sequitur. Why does expansion of Nature News require a database of email addresses? And what can “more tailored services” mean other than restricting access? Needless to say, I won’t be registering. There are other plenty of other sources of science information

Nature is of course a business operation, and you have to see this move against the wider backdrop of traditional publishing companies trying to find the way forward in the digital age. As a commercial enterprise, they are entitled to charge customers, although I wish they would be a little more honest about their intention to do so. I would remind them however, that The Times‘ paywall has been an unmitigated disaster, in terms of the negative an effect it has had on the readership figures. Given the revelations of the past weeks about the behaviour of News International, I bet people who were foolish enough to register are now wondering who has their personal information now. Will Nature News go the same way?

More importantly, however, as a scientist, I think that Nature’s policy of copyrighting and restricting general access to scientific papers is fundamentally wrong and is actively damaging science. I believe that scientific results should be in the public domain, as should the data on which they are based. Open access is the way it should be. In the past, publishers greatly assisted in the dissemination of research both between academics and to the public. Now, I’m afraid, the academic publishing industry is simply parasitic, and it is a threat to the health of scientific research. Fortunately, I don’t think a drastic remedy is needed; it will wither away on it’s own. Let’s just let Nature take its course.