Plunging research output holds back UK revival claims report
6 Aug 2023
The UK’s research infrastructure and funding system must be radically overhauled in order to improve the reliability of scientific research and kick start the economy, argues think tank the Social Market Foundation in a new report.
The study, authored by Harvard Kennedy School researcher Will Henshall, warns that without reform the country will pay increasingly more for breakthroughs or resign itself to slower rates of progress and economic growth.
The productivity of scientists in the UK has been falling over time, plunging particularly steeply since the 1990s, states Henshall. Despite the number of researchers rising, Britain was now achieving “less bang for our buck”, he claimed.
Key factors in this are the time taken to secure funding and processes that prevent novel and more transformative research from securing funding, asserts the report. It recommends the creation of a National Institute for Scientific Replicability.
This should be independent of other scientific bodies, in control of its own budget, and able to fund new lines of enquiry unaffected by ‘groupthink and confirmation bias’.
The report also focuses on another current issue for UK science, the so-called ‘crisis of replicability’ whereby researchers following up high-profile findings have found themselves unable to confirm the initial results.
Henshall suggests that growing pressure on researchers to publish has led to poor methods being used, reducing replicability. He recommend the proposed institute should sponsor independent replication projects and develop predictive tools to guide replication efforts.
Additional recommendations such as creating shared research infrastructure, and getting UKRI to announce a date by which all research institutions must be in compliance with all open research policy could further address the falling productivity issue.
“Continued scientific and technological progress will be essential if we are to solve the pressing challenges facing the UK and the world. It’s been great to see new institutions being set up and new ideas being tested to accelerate this progress in the last few years, but more must be done,” said Henshall.