May 16, 2012

Blue Moon hypothesis tested in Large Football Collider (LFC)

The Manchester Derby 2007. What a difference five years makes

“This is how it feels to be City, this is how it feels to be small, this is how it feels when your team wins nothing at all.”  [1,3]

If you are not interested in Football Science, look away now. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

There is a controversial idea in football that money buys trophies, also known as Mancini’s Blue Moon hypothesis.

Two rival Universities have led the way in testing this idea, The University of Old Trafford and the The University of Eastlands, both in Manchester. One institute is led by a Scot, Professor Ferguson the other by an Italian, Professor Mancini. Both Universities have assembled teams of elite researchers including Doctor Vidic (PhD, University of Spartak Moscow) and Doctor Kompany (PhD, University of Hamburger) in their respective labs to carry out the necessary experiments.

Professor Mancini’s research laboratory have recently produced some intriguing experimental results by winning the 2012 Premier League title with generous funding from the Mansour Research Council (MRC) [2] (not to be confused with the Medical Research Council). The MRC has invested significantly more funding than rival bodies like the Glazer Research Council (GRC) not be be confused with the Global Research Council, which has opened up exciting new research opportunities in applied football science.

Some leading football scientists say Mancini’s Blue Moon hypothesis has been proven beyond all doubt; money does buy you trophies. Other scientists say that is it too early to tell, these results are inconclusive and more research is needed. Professor Ferguson insists that other factors besides money are significant in winning trophies.

Experimentalists will resume their research when the Large Football Collider (LFC) is switched back on in August 2012 after its annual summer shutdown. Is Mancini’s hypothesis proven or not? Tune in next season …


  1. Inspiral Carpets (1990) This Is How It Feels to be Lonely, This Is How It Feels to be Small Mute records
  2. The Premier League Research Council (PLRC) funds research into basic and applied football science in collaboration with the Mansour Research Council and many others. These football science councils have a larger fund than all the other traditional scientific research councils combined (EPSRC, BBSRC, NERCMRC, STFC and PPARC etc).

June 2, 2009

Blogging For Profit: Costs and Benefits

Business Graph by nDevilTV
The organisers of the Science Online London 2009 conference are asking people to propose their own session ideas (see some examples here), so here is proposal:

Title: Blogging For Profit: Costs and Benefits

What are the costs and benefits of blogging and how can you make sure the latter justifies the former?

This (proposed) session will look at two kinds of profit, and the costs associated with each.

  1. Research profit (in science and academia), building digital reputations on the Web. Can blogging help your next grant proposal for research funding and if so, how? How can blogging be used to increase the visibility and impact of published research via the likes of ResearchBlogging.org, blogs.nature.com and other aggregators?
  2. Financial profit (in business), making blogging pay the bills. What business models (and infrastructure) exist to support blogging? Including, but not limited to: Nature Network, ScienceBlogs, Google AdSense, “20% time“, “free” tools (WordPress, Blogger, OpenWetWare etc). Going solo vs. joining a club – which business models and tools are right for you?

This could be followed by a general discussion on these benefits. When do they justify their costs (and risks) and make for profitable blogging?

If this is a successful proposal, I’ll need some help. Any offers? If you are interested in joining in the fun, details are at scienceonlinelondon.org

[CC-licensed Business Graph picture by nDevilTV]

May 26, 2009

Grants on the Web: Transparent Scientific Funding?

Lord Drayson by DIUSGOVUKAll over the Britain, politicians are getting ready to publish their expenses on the Interweb. Why? Because they are trying to regain their lost credibility, after making some incredibly dodgy and embarrassing expense claims [1-7]. Scandals aside, this is all well and good since this money has come from the UK taxpayers pocket, and politicians are public servants, doing public work which is supposedly in the public good.

Scientists, like politicians, also provide a public service, spending public money, for the public good. Science is public knowledge after all and scientists spend quite a lot of public money. At least £3 billion was spent on scientific research in the UK during 2008 (see Who Funds Science in Britain?) and that was just research, not teaching. Wouldn’t it be great if anyone who was interested could see what all this money had been spent on, who spent it and what the outcomes were?

Thankfully you can already do this for some areas of research. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) which currently spends around £740 million a year on everything from “mathematics to materials science, and from information technology to structural engineering” has a system called Grants on the Web @ gow.epsrc.ac.uk. You can find out who spent the money and how much money was spent since the system was set up, see an EPSRC example here. Some of the original grant proposals are there too, which can be enlightening. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) also has a similar system (called oasis), though it is not as easy to use and link to – see a BBSRC example here. The trouble is, if you can’t easily link to it, it doesn’t get indexed by search engines. If it doesn’t get indexed by search engines, then it’s almost invisible. Fortunately, the BBSRC are working on improving this, with a new system due for release in the autumn of 2009.

Other organisations are putting grant information on the web too. Recently, thanks to the UK’s PubMed Central database you can also see the published results of publicly funded biomedical research. The funders pages at ukpmc.ac.uk/funders give a breakdown of published results from different funding bodies, as described in this article by Robert Kiley of the Wellcome Trust and this one by Alison Henning.

Now not all the research councils seem to publish their grants on the Web in a transparent manner*, and some of those that do, leave lots of room for improvement. But it is still useful to be able to see where some of that public money went and what the outcomes of the research were. More transparent spending of public money like this isn’t just a desirable extra, it should come as standard.

* (It is difficult to find the details of grants awarded by JISC, NERC, MRC and STFC, but please leave a comment below if you know where this information is published. More commentary on this post over at friendfeed.)

[Creative Commons licensed picture of Baron Paul Drayson, currently UK Science Minister from DIUSGOVUK.]


  1. The Daily Telegraph (2009) MPs’ expenses: all the gory details from the Daily Telegraph
  2. The Guardian (2009) Grauniad datablog: MP’s expenses as spreadsheet and Free Our Data: Make taxpayers’ data available to them
  3. Wikipedia (2009) MPs’ expenses in wikipedia
  4. BBC News (2009) MPs’ expenses: A triumph of journalism? A week after its opening salvo, the Daily Telegraph is still reaping great benefit from its exclusive expose of MPs’ expenses.
  5. BBC News (2009) Q&A: MP expenses row explained: Revelations in the Daily Telegraph about exactly what MPs have been claiming on expenses has prompted a public outcry and a pledge to reform the “gentlemen’s club” at Westminster
  6. BBC Newsnight (2009) Stephen Fry dismisses MPs’ expenses row, accusing journalists of hypocrisy
  7. The Guardian (2009) Censored version of MPs’ expenses will break the law, Hugh Tomlinson QC warns

January 20, 2009

Donald Braben on Scientific Freedom

The Elixir of Civilization?Donald Braben was in Manchester last week, to give a seminar on scientific freedom, here is the abstract of his talk:

Every major scientific discovery came unexpectedly out of the blue.  Until a few decades ago, creative researchers were free to explore. The unpredicted harvest was prodigious. Nowadays, academic research is subject to unprecedented levels of control.  Consensus rules.  In industry, companies focus on “core business“, and severely restrict the range of their research.  Consequently, caution is encouraged everywhere, and highly original research is curtailed.  As a result, there has been a dearth of major new scientific discoveries in recent years.  The significance of the problems and their possible solutions will be discussed.

So who is Donald Braben? Don has held a senior position at the Cabinet Office in Whitehall, and a has a visiting Professorship at University College London (UCL) . He has written two books [3,5], going against the currently prevalent views on science funding. To overcome the problem of the lack of scientific freedom, Braben proposes the creation of a twenty first century “Planck Club”, (named after some bloke called Max Planck). The Planck Club consists of an elite group of the very best scientists who are completely free to explore their ideas without submitting their project proposals to peer review (what Don calls “peer preview”).

Most of the audience were sympathetic to what Don had to say, and his talk provoked an extended discussion about the best way to fund the best Science. All this reminds me of the Skunk Works projects and the infamous “20% time” given to engineers at Google – freedom in Science (and engineering) really matters, but it isn’t always so easy to decide who deserves it and why. Thanks to Don for an entertaining and thought-provoking seminar, and thanks to Paul Popelier for organising it.

If this kind of stuff interests you, take a look at the references below.


  1. Peter Augsdorfer (2008). Book review: Scientific freedom ChemBioChem 9 (17), 2889-2890. DOI:10.1002/cbic.200800670 “The real value of the book is that it shows that unconstrained funding can really work and it tells us how.”
  2. Tim Birkhead (2008). In praise of fishing trips: The tyranny of ‘the hypothesis’ has made science too timid Times Higher Education 2008-07-31
  3. Donald Braben (1994) To Be A Scientist: The spirit of adventure in science and technology, Oxford University Press, isbn:0198522908
  4. Donald Braben (2007). UK Science must not roll over and play dead Times Higher Education 2007-12-07
  5. Donald Braben (2008). Scientific Freedom: The Elixir of Civilisation, Wiley, isbn:0470226544
  6. Donald Braben (2008). Why peer review thwarts innovation New Scientist 2644, 2008-02-23,
  7. Donald Braben (2008). Shoot for the blue skies: The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) constrains academics Times Higher Education 2008-12-22
  8. Zoe Corbyn (2008). Kill peer-review, save civilisation. Times Higher Education 2008-04-17
  9. Tom Feilden (2008). Searching for Einsteins: Is Science stagnating? BBC blogs (and Radio 4 Today programme) 2008-12-11
  10. Krebs and Braben (2009). Don Braben and John Krebs discuss is funding for scientists is under threat Today programme 2009-02-27
  11. Mark Gilbert (2009). Being judged is hard, not being judged is worse Times Higher Education 2009-01-15
  12. Douglas Kell (2009). Scientific Freedom at the UK Research Councils BBSRC blogs 2009-01-05
  13. KFC (2009). How Google’s PageRank predicts Nobel Prize winners arxivblog.com, the physics arXiv blog 2009-01-21
  14. Michael Nielsen (2008). Three myths about peer review michaelnielsen.org 2009-01-08

August 14, 2008

Anyone for a game of Fantasy Science Funding?

Donald Trump and Melania by Boss TweedFantasy Science Funding is a fun game that anybody can play. You select a Science funding body of your choice, imagine yourself as its all powerful chief executive, and decide which areas of scientific research you would “hire and fire”. What could be easier? Here is how Fantasy Science Funding works…

August 12, 2008

Who funds Science in Britain?

Unon Jack by bambi851The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is full of scientists. All kinds of scientists working in biology, chemistry and physics, as well as plenty of mathematicians, engineers and technologists too work in the UK. They make their living in good old Blighty, pushing forward the boundaries of human knowledge, wherever and whenever they can. Nanotechnology, astronomy, molecular biology, primatology, climatology and lots of other ‘ologies can all be found in Britain. Who is it that pays them and how much money do they spend? Here is a list of funding bodies in 2008, along with their annual budgets and chief executives. It is not a comprehensive list, because it does not include all charities, European money and privately funded Science. However, it does cover most of the larger funding bodies… (more…)

July 25, 2008

How to spend a £400 million Science budget

A thought experiment with lots of money

The Queens Ahead by canonsnapperThe Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the United Kingdom’s funding agency for academic research and training in the non-clinical life sciences. It supports a total of around 1600 scientists and 2000 research students in universities and institutes in the UK. The head of our laboratory, Douglas Kell, has recently been appointed Chief Executive of the BBSRC [1]. Congratulations Doug, we wish you the very best in your new job. Now, according to bbsrc.ac.uk, their annual budget is a cool £400 million (just short of $800 million or €500 million). This has left me wondering, how would you spend a £400 million Science budget for the life sciences? For the purposes of this article, imagine it was you that had been put in charge of said budget, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown (texture like sun) had given you, yes YOU, a big bag of cash to distribute as you see fit. A mouth-watering prospect, I think you’ll agree. Here, is my personal opinion of how, in my dreams, I would spend the money. (more…)

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