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Funding academic research:Two sides of the coin Academics working in the life sciences have traditionally sector with a steady flow of trained scientists and engi- relied on their immediate colleagues and peers for help neers. In return, the pursuit of academic research on today’s with the editing stages of their funding applications and ‘industrial’ scale, relies on the transient passage of graduate research reports, but there is a climate of change in the air.
students, post-doctoral researchers and junior group leaders, Throughout Europe, competitive mechanisms for the allot- through the laboratories of its universities, technical schools ment of funds are currently attempting to better integrate and research institutes. Academic research in Europe is the enterprise of basic research within the interests of society largely carried out by a work force employed on fixed short- as a whole. To get published and obtain funding, academic term contracts and innovation is stimulated by fierce com- scientists need to devote more attention than ever before to petition for limited funds and the constant turnover of per- explaining the broader relevance and impact of their dis- sonnel. At the educational, institutional and governmental coveries. These changes pose new challenges for scientists levels, a sustainable research policy depends on keeping the who do basic research. Can they maintain their intellectual rigour, the freedom to question accepted theories, the room to pursue curiosity-driven investigations, while accepting that their paymasters are correct to evaluate their work in However, many academics pursuing basic research in the terms of its contribution to society’s needs? Will their invest- life science disciplines perceive that the flow of resources ment in the marketing aspects of their profession come at the is being diverted towards more applied research. They price of less time spent actually doing research? Medical claim it is becoming ever harder to find the resources to writers have developed skills and methodologies that could maintain a research group with the critical mass to make help basic researchers in the biomedical science disciplines to progress in a chosen area of study and feel deeply frustrat- ed at having to spend an increasing proportion of their timeon the search for funds. A recent survey backs up their sub- Science and society or science in society? jective impressions, with evidence of long-term public sec- The pursuit of science for its intellectual value used to be tor under-funding in European countries [1]. Statistics from the exclusive realm of the gentleman scientist of independ- many national funding agencies as well as from charities ent means. Today, largely thanks to public funding, the ide- and industrial foundations tell the same story; in recent alistic dream of a career spent pushing back the frontiers of years, the total number of applicants has increased signifi- knowledge, has come within the reach of intellectually cantly more than the funds available, while the proportion motivated young men and women from all social strata.
of quality ratings has remained stable or improved. The However, in exchange, society rightly expects that its citi- inevitable result is that the percentage of highly rated appli- zens should have a say in evaluating what they get in cations that are funded from such sources e.g. [2, 3] contin- return. The post war explosion in the size of the scientific ues to decline. Incidentally, this also means that reviewing workforce reflects a broad consensus in present-day socie- time allotted to individual grant requests has shrunk in ty, that economic growth and scientific pre-eminence are recent years. For instance, assessment of European inseparably linked. Like it or not, the principle reasons that Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) postdoctoral fel- basic research receives significant funding from the public lowship applications for the year 2004 reputedly allowed for an average of less than five minutes inspection perapplicant in the first round of selection.
Throughout Europe, the US and Japan, as well as in thedeveloping and emerging economies of Asia, attaining the Over the last two decades, the European Union (EU) has targets for research and development (R&D) expenditure is become a major player in the distribution of research an important factor of economic success. All governments funds. Its funding policies reflect a general trend that is set recognise that the contemporary ‘knowledge society’ is a to continue at both the national and international levels. In complex system that can sustain itself only by continuing every research discipline, the emphasis has shifted to sup- to generate technological advances. The effectiveness of porting translational research, i.e. the flow of intellectual industry’s expenditure on applied research and develop- capital from academia to the wider world. Nowhere is this ment depends on the continued flow of basic research find- shift more obvious than in the expensive, post-genomic, ings. It also requires that academia furnishes the private systems biology era of biomedical research.
The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association
The overall target for European R&D spending by 2010 isto attain 3% of GDP, with two thirds of that figure project-ed to come from private sector contributions. Some aca-demic scientists fear the trend as a dangerous one thatthreatens to stifle curiosity-based research. Pragmatists seeit as an opportunity to strengthen problem-driven funda-mental research in the areas of most urgent concern tohumanity. Many academics are simply still bamboozled bythe administrative hoops they are required to jump throughin order to construct, submit and execute an EU fundedproject.
(reproduced from [1] with permission)
Figure 1. The Training Pipeline: Key stages are identified as valves in the
pipeline, allowing appropriate skills to be drawn off at appropriatestages. Action to tighten or loosen the pressure at these key decision The main political instruments for the EU funding of pointswill affect flow positively or adversely.
research and development are called the Framework UGE - Undergraduates, PGE - Postgraduates, PDE Postdocs
Programmes (FP). FP6 has overseen the distribution of 20billion euros during its four-year term of activity. Its suc- ests it seems a daunting task, but those who have been most cessor, FP7 recently entered its implementation phase hav- successful in exploiting the funds awarded in FP6, provide ing completed the two-year long procedure for adoption organisational models for what works best. There are also and approval by the European Parliament in November plenty of lessons to be learned from what hasn’t worked. 2006. During its seven-year lifetime, it will administer EUbudgeted research funds of 54 billion euros. In conjunction with the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework The FP7 programme is a complicated entity.
Programme, FP7 will focus on measures to reorganise the Understanding how to deal with it demands an input that currently fragmented manner in which the bulk of other tends to put many academics off proceeding further, at research funding provided by EU industry, international least while they feel they still have options to try for other research bodies and the 27 Member States with national funding sources. It is easy to be turned off by the jargon research policies, is spent. The political aim is to foster the and the acronyms that abound even in the best online EU industrial sector’s ability to compete in R&D with the guides to EU research funding [4, 5]. Trying to grasp where US and Asia. A major part of the plan to achieve this concepts such as the European Technology Platforms involves developing a more coordinated life sciences fund- (ETPs) and Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs) fit in the ing approach and improving interaction between the aca- overall scheme can make one feel like a confused elderly demic and private sectors. In theory, the goals of FP7 person who keeps asking “exactly where is the internet?” appear laudable: encourage sharing of resources and infor- Nevertheless, in return for a small investment of time spent mation; eradicate duplication of effort; avoid lack of criti- exploring some of the key information, there has been cal mass, coordinate evaluation and distribution of potential to influence the prioritisation of funding since the resources to favour interdisciplinary approaches. However earliest stages of the political process. Academic many academics remain sceptical, arguing that economies researchers were invited to step out of their ivory towers of scale achieved by polarizing basic research into and participate in the political debate about what gets fund- ‘Networks of Excellence’ and ‘Technology Platforms’, will ed. How many afforded themselves the ‘luxury’ of doing so lead to large infrastructures from which it will be difficult to disengage when they become obsolete.
Specific portions of the FP7 budget are allocated to four The future of European basic research funding does not sub-programmes, through which the funds will be distrib- look particularly rosy for the foreseeable future, but given uted. The ‘Cooperation’ sub-programme will assess that its status inevitably depends upon other economic requests for funding under nine different thematic areas indicators this should not come as a shock to us. Whether (including Health), Some health-related research projects the increasingly structured EU policies will succeed in will also qualify for submission within the three other sub- stimulating the new wave of private investment that is programme categories (‘Ideas’, ‘People’ and ‘Capacities’).
hoped for remains to be seen. In practice the changes in Other funds have been set aside for the development of spending mix between the public and private sector are technology platforms, around 30 of which have been creat- already upon us and they are not about to disappear. To ed to date. Among those related to the biosciences sector, the avoid the distribution of the available funds becoming a IME (Innovative Medicines for Europe) and NanoMedicine lottery, scientists throughout academia urgently need to (Nanotechnologies for Medical Applications) platforms respond by better structuring of their approach to project have been charged with developing strategic research management and the acquisition of funding. For academics agendas and mobilising additional investment in their area used to the single-minded pursuit of their specialist inter- from public and private resources. Such technology plat- The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association
forms will primarily be led by captains of industry, but the the best chance, a proposal must also gain consistently high decision-making teams are also composed of influential evaluation scores for criteria such as transdisciplinarity of representatives from academia, regulatory authorities and approach, gender balance of applicants and should demon- other stake holders. In certain cases it is estimated that the strate an element of academic-private industry partnership. scale and timeframe of a public-private partnership’s One of the major changes between FP6 and FP7 is that strategic research agenda requires a dedicated legal struc- individual research consortium members will now have to ture to achieve high risk, long term aims. In such instances, draw up and administer legally binding contracts with each the European Technology Platforms will oversee the cre- other as well as with the EU. Another is that many logisti- ation of Joint Technology Initiatives such as the one now in cal and administrative tasks associated with funding appli- the process of creation for ‘Innovative Medicines’ [6]. The cation submissions will now be outsourced to third partiesinstead of being managed by EU staff. The project propos- JTIs will be expected to compete for EU funding through al and the subsequent progress reporting, needs to coordi- the ‘open competition’ mechanism of the FP7 structures.
nate and harmonise the technical inputs from many people, With the exception of a small number of individual awards each with expert knowledge in a different area. Throughout granted through the medium of the recently created the many stages of the application and the reporting proce- European Research Council [7], both the submission of dures there are mandatory templates for different document FP7 applications and the execution of successfully funded submissions. As the processes of application and interme- Framework Programme projects will impose an enormous diate reporting become increasingly geared to online sub- administrative burden. The risk of application failure is so mission, it is rapidly becoming obligatory to do so. The high that the enterprise is not one to be taken on lightly.
guidelines for completing applications correctly, amount to Based on the statistics for FP6, approximately 80% of FP7 a paper mountain several meters high. The penalty for not applications received are likely to be rejected.
completing all the paperwork within the tightly defined Superimposed upon the obligate requirements for scientif- deadlines after publication of a call, is immediate rejection ic excellence and the need to fit within the remit of tightly of the application. Simply put, both the benchmarks and pre-defined guidelines defining the research topics that are the target audience for evaluating FP7 applications are eligible within each call for applications , there are quota somewhat different from the ones that most basicresearchers have much experience of. Many academic sci- assessments based on broadly political criteria. To be con- entists view the prospect of acting as an FP7 project coor- sidered for evaluation, projects must involve research part- dinator with trepidation, having neither the time nor the ners in a minimum number (usually three) of the different inclination to invest in blending and distilling multiple Member or Associate Member States. The more countries inputs into a formally styled synopsis that is concise, accu- represented in a scientifically excellent consortium, the bet- rate, comprehensible and appealing to reviewers from a ter its chances of being favourably considered. To be in with broad spectrum of expertise. This remains true despite theirgrowing acceptance of the need to communicate the valueof their work outside the realm of their peers. In brief, aca- demics (at least in the biomedical sciences) who are tempt-ed to act as project coordinators are beginning to recognise that they can benefit from the help of intermediaries with "What have we learnt from Vioxx?"1 is an article that analogous skill sets to those of medical writers with expe- should be read by everybody working in the pharma rience of the pharmaceutical industry and its regulatoryprocedures. industry or in biomedical publications. See also 'NEJM"failed its readers" by delay in publishing its concernsabout VIGOR trial' in BMJ 2006;333:116. 1. Krumholz HM, Ross JS, Presler AH, Egilman DS. What have we learnt from EMWA member Diana Taylor has spoken at industry conferences in the USA and Europe. Since 2003 she hasled seminars and workshops on medical writing andcommunication across Europe. Her work from Sofia toSan Francisco has been crystallised in Healthywords a recently published book that promotes the means towards "Once or twice recently I have looked up a word in the a betterment in communications across the drugs indus- dictionary for fear of being again accused of coining, and try. (“The analysis and reflection is mature and reveals a have found it there right enough–only to read on and find lot of knowledge and good judgement. Impressive”, sam- that the sole authority is myself in a half-forgotten novel".
ple feedback from City University, London).
Book details are readily available through the Internet Thomas Hardy
The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association
Who will pay?Until now there has been a major problem with the idea ofincorporating an intermediate tier of administrative help for preparation of funding applications, project reporting Is it wrong to write: 'The hydrochlorothiazide
and project management. With most ‘traditional’ researchfunding being specifically earmarked to pay for salaries, patients (or group) had a mean BP of …', or do I have
consumables, or large infrastructure, there has been essen- to say: 'The hydrochlorothiazide-treated patients
tially no money available in academia to pay for such had…', 'The patients in the hydrochlorothiazide
administrative services. At least one aspect of the problem group had …', or 'The patients treated with
is on the way to being resolved. A novelty in FP7, is the hydrochlorothiazide had …'?
allocation of 7% of the total sums awarded for administra- Using a drug name (or therapeutic method) adjectivally tive costs of the successful applicants. However these funds to describe a patient group is not wrong. On the contrary, will only be paid upon satisfactory completion of research it is an expedient way of describing one of the groups in contracts that often have a timeframe of several years. The a clinical trial. Adding the suffix '-treated' after a drug issue of how to pay for writing services that can facilitate name or placebo used adjectivally in this way is also not success in the first place is a problem that can only be wrong, but it does not enhance understanding, lengthens resolved on a case-by-case basis. It is one that will require the text unnecessarily, and insisting on it is pedantic.
ingenuity, a pioneering spirit and the recognition that pro- Being constantly faced with '-treated' when it is perfect- fessional writing skills can only bring added value to sound ly obvious that the patients were treated is also very projects of high scientific quality. There are hopeful signs wearing on the reader. In the mountains of documenta- that institutions wishing to seriously encourage their tion we produce, every opportunity to be concise (while tenured staff to seek EU funding will be prepared to support always preserving comprehensibility) should be exploit- some of these costs in future. The next problem encountered ed. The other two solutions are, of course, also perfectly is likely to be where to find the highly skilled help that is acceptable, but they are very much longer.
required. Researchers in Switzerland, an associate memberof the FP7 programme, have only recently acquired theright to act as coordinators for EU funded grants, and there Alistair Reeves
still seems to be a dearth of interest from people with the scientific background and the writing skills to fit the bill. Infact throughout Europe there are very few schemes specifi-cally designed to feed this branch of the training pipeline.
Are the EU policies an imaginative, holistic solution to fos-tering the progress of research and increasing its value to Is 'in the pipeline' jargon?
the community at large or is there nothing more behindthem than a slick and expensive propaganda exercise? If, When you are speaking, use 'We have the following as scientist-writers we want to make it work, it’s up to us products in the pipeline' as often as you want. When to tailor solutions to the organisational problems that stand writing in our context, I always prefer: 'We have the fol- in the way of success. We need to learn the value of a lowing products under (or in) development'.
whole range of communication skills and use them to pro-mote the pursuit of knowledge without it resulting in a Alistair Reeves
dumbing down at the cutting edge of science.
Moira Cockell
ALWRITE Scientific Writing and Editing Services, Savigny, Switzerland and
Institute of Microbiology, CHUV hospital, Lausanne, Switzerland

Often authors are encouraged to use an English rather 1. Benchmarking National R&D Policies /Human Resources in R&D, European Commission final report 2002 by STRATA-ETAN working group than a Latin word in scientific writing but sometimes there is no exact equivalent of the Latin word in English.
2. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Conference of the Swiss Association of The Latin word sicut, known better by its abbreviation Research Managers and Administrators (p41). sic., is such an example. Roughly it means 'thus, so, just 3. Roche Research Foundation Annual Report 2004 http://www.research-founda- as'. It is usually written in italics and printed in square brackets after quoted words to indicate that a mistake made in the quote was originally made by the writer or 6. Innovative Medicines Initiative research Council Work Programme 2007 (draft version published by the Scientific Council ofthe ERC on 28 10 06)
The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association


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