Sir Paul Nurse (pictured), the Nobel Prize winner and current president of the Royal Society, has recommended that Research Councils UK - the body which currently oversees the UK's research councils - should evolve into a more formal organisation to provide a unified voice to government and deliver strategy across all seven organisations.
The new body, proposed by Sir Paul in his review of research councils, would be renamed Research UK (RUK). It would have a chief executive appointed by ministers and an executive committee comprising those heading up AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC and STFC respectively. The new structure, says Nurse, would free up individual research councils to concentrate on their own strategies and research communities.
RUK would manage a 'common research fund' to support cross-cutting activity across the Research Councils such as multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary research. This aspect of the report is particularly welcomed by the RSS, which promoted awareness of the cross-disciplinary nature of statistics in its submission to the review. RSS president Peter Diggle says: 'The statistics discipline has a particularly wide reach across all of the research councils' remits. The RUK executive committee could take a strategic role around quantitative skills, statistics and data science requirements across all of the UK's research.'
The RSS also welcomes another function of RUK, which would be to take overall responsibility for ethical and conduct issues in science. The report notes: 'The validity of science is based on its values and attributes: honesty, respect for reliable data and observation, a sceptical approach, courtesy in scientific debate and dialogue, consistency, rejection of cherry picking data, and openness and transparency with respect to research and how it is reported. Policies need to be in place to ensure that scientific research is pursued in a manner that respects these values and attributes' (p 28).
The RSS will press for statistics to feature in the formulation of these policies. Peter Diggle continues: 'Statistics is fundamental to ensuring that research is conducted ethically, which is why, for example, statisticians have for many years figured prominently in medical research ethics committees.'
Finally, the Nurse report discusses the level of scientific research funding going forward. While refusing to set an arbitrary figure, Sir Paul warns of the consequences of a funding shortfall. 'Below-optimal funding levels results in stress within the research endeavour, wasting time and resources,' he says. 'When the success rate for research grant funding falls too low, decision making can become poor, sometimes focusing on criteria other than research excellence, leading to a drop in morale and a breakdown in trust between funder and researcher.'