Archive for UKRI

The Researchfish Saga continues

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , on May 19, 2022 by telescoper

You may recall that I blogged here and here about a software platform called Researchfish and the heavy-handed reaction response to criticism by the provider of this “service”, a company called Interfolio, and the Government organization UK Research and Innovation that harvests the data thereby collected. In its response to Interfolio’s apparent misuse of data and bullying of academics who dared to express negative opinions about Researchfish – which I would say, based on my own experiences (admittedly several years ago), is a very poorly designed system – UKRI made a sort of non-apology that managed to make matters worse.

A couple of days ago, in response to a Freedom of Information request, UKRI released correspondence between itself and Infosys that shows not only that UKRI knew about the bullying by Infosys but actively encouraged it. The story is covered in full by Research Professional so I shall comment on briefly here.

Here’s an example from UKRI which talks about taking “disciplinary” action against someone for criticizing Researchfish on Twitter (even though they subsequently apologized and deleted the tweet) and goes on to list their grant awards, presumably in order to facilitate sanctions against the individual:

Here’s another that claims that bullying by Researchfish “set the right tone”:

Unbelievable. I bet the redacted bits are even worse!

It’s a shocking indictment of the culture at UKRI that they are prepared to behave in such a way, conniving in threats against the community it is supposed to be supporting. Moreover, Interfolio seems to be keener to police comments about Researchfish than it is to make improvements to its service. It can’t be healthy for researchers in the UK to have their freedom of speech stifled to protect a software company’s reputation.

The brevity and informality of the emails between UKRI and Infotech suggests they have a very cosy relationship. Does anyone know anything about the tendering process by which Interfolio acquired its contract with UKRI?

The Researchfish Scandal

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , on April 19, 2022 by telescoper

You may remember that about a month ago I posted a piece about the scandalous behaviour of the people who operate Researchfish – the execrable software system intended to collect data relating to the outputs of research grants funded by the various UK Research Councils.  The scandal consisted of bullying of researchers who dared to criticize mighty Researchfish followed by an atrocious non-apology when challenged about their conduct.

Well now today UKRI (UK Research and Innovation, the umbrella organization for the Research Councils) has stepped in, with the result that the scandal has now deepened.

UKRI issued a statement which begins by claiming Researchfish acted in response to “abusive” tweets. The tweets I have seen were by no means abusive so that’s a very poor start. More importantly however, the “update” doesn’t deal at all with the substantive issues raised, namely the sinister threat to communicate researchers’ personal information to UKRI. I have always thought that Researchfish would be better off trying to engage with the research community to improve its system, especially the awful user interface, than threatening the people who criticize it but it now seems the situation is even worse than I originally thought.

According to a story in Research Fortnight, “UK Research and Innovation has admitted it (my emphasis) encouraged Researchfish to report some tweets from academics to it, after enraged researchers criticized the online service for doing this last month”. UKRI goes on to say that they have “stopped this approach with immediate effect and recognize that it was the wrong thing to do”. Damn right it was wrong, but I wonder who made the decision to do it in the first place, and what sanction they will face?

There is also this:

We understand that this has raised questions around personal data. We take data protection very seriously. Our assessment of the data protection considerations is ongoing and is expected to be concluded shortly.

I rather think this calls for an independent inquiry but, although I fear a whitewash is in progress, let’s see wait and see…

ERC Starting Grant Statistics

Posted in Politics, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2022 by telescoper

Today the European Research Council (ERC) announced the first round of winners of Starting Grants under the new Horizon Europe programme. The results make for interesting reading. Some 397 grants were awarded worth a total of €619 million, i.e. about €1.5 million each on average, all intended for researchers in the early stages of their careers. A complete list of award winners can be found in this PDF document. Congratulations to all of them!

Here is the breakdown by host country:

You will see that Ireland has secured 8 (half in social sciences & humanities, and half in science). That’s not bad for a small country, and is comparable with Denmark, Norway and Finland. The only two funded in Physical Sciences & Engineering in Ireland are both at the University of Limerick.

The big shock, however, is that the number of grants to be hosted in the UK is down sharply on previous Starter Grant rounds. In previous years that I can remember the UK was at the top of the awards table. Now top spot goes to Germany, with the UK in third place, only just above the Netherlands. I wonder what the reason could be for that?

You might be surprised that the UK is listed at all because it is not in the EU has not signed an association agreement with the European Union. Switzerland, also not in the EU, has been awarded 28 grants but these are not eligible for funding because negotiations on association have ended without a signature. According to the ERC website:

As a result, host institutions established in Switzerland are not eligible for funding. Exceptionally for this call, since it was already closed before the termination of the negotiations between the EU and Switzerland, the proposals submitted with Swiss host institutions and which have been selected for funding may remain eligible if their host institution is replaced with a legal entity established in an eligible country.

This looks like a cue for other institutions to start poaching! Israel and Norway are non-EU countries have agreements in place.

The situation with the UK, as far as I understand it, is that negotiations towards an association agreement are currently snarled up with issues surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol component of the UK’s withdrawal agreement from the European Union. If an agreement is signed before contracts have to be issued (in April) then the grants to UK institutions will be funded by the EU. If not then not.

In addition, successful applicants established in a country in the process of associating to Horizon Europe will not be treated as established in an associated country if the association agreement does not apply by the time of the signature of the grant agreement. 

In this case, however, the UK Government will fund these through the UKRI budget. So they say.

On the other hand, these grants are portable and some winners may decided to change host institution to avoid any uncertainty. Cue some more poaching?

Another thing that is striking is that although 46 UK institutions are intended hosts for such funding, only 12 of the grantees have UK nationality.

It follows that many of the UK’s grantees are from elsewhere, either in the EU or outside. It is possible under this scheme for awardees to relocate to institutions in member countries from non-member countries, which accounts for the large number of “Others” in the plot.

Notice the opposite applies to Italy: there are 58 Italian grantees but only 28 grants will be hosted in Italy.

Here is the breakdown by gender:

Anyway, you can read more about the statistics in this PDF document here.