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Post Brexit Funding Gap Will Threaten Impartiality Over Research In University

Pose-Brexit funding gap will be threatening the impartiality of the University Research. (Image Courtesy: Google)

There has been never ending debate over whether the research in science should be privatised? The fruitful and harmonious co-operation between the state-sponsored research and the private companies,can make its best use commercially.

The technological clusters around the Cambridge is the most high profile example of this symbiosis. Yet there is every reason for becoming cautious regarding the future cause of collaboration.

Obvious impact of increasing private sector funding will be coming from the potential loss of the public sector cash.

We are also quite aware that public sector funding’s comes with much of the intense pressure which will be making money from the pharmaceuticals and chemical firms much more attractive to the Universities.

Impact of Pesticides:

Main worry which scientists are having currently is the impact of the pesticides which includes neonicotinoids which will be dependent on the firms which produce them.

There is enough disagreement regarding whether “neonics” is being responsible for the declining population of bee.

Firms like Bayer and Syngenta which are selling neonicotinoids insecticides have given a combined total of £ 16.1m to 70 British Universities for funding range of research projects.

This research projects will be undertaken in the duration ranging from 2011 to 2016.  Figures are obtained under Freedom of Information Act by Greenpeace.

From this £ 2.6m was spent over the plant sciences which includes research in pesticides.

Leading Bee scientists has expressed concerns that such private funding might create conflict of interest among academics.

They even warned that after Brexit potential shortage of public money for science might force universities for seeking finance from private sectors.

Effect of Neonicotinoids over Bee’s:

Neonicotinoids were once thought to be having little or no negative effect over the environment because of being used in lower doses. They were used as coating rather than being sprayed.

Yet evidence has been mounting that the chemicals do harm bees with the recent study linking to the use of “large scale population extinctions”.

As a result of the same, neonicotinoids has been banned by EU, though they are still used under licence. Yet both of the firms are denying that there is any evidence for showing pesticides being causing significant problem of bees.

According to the Bayer’s website, academics which has reviewed 15 years of research has found no adverse effects to the bee colonies where ever they observed in field study.

Syngenta adding to the same says, “Many years of independent monitoring prove that when used properly – as they consistently are – neonicotinoids do not damage the health of bee populations.”

Between the duration of 2011 and 2016, figures which were obtained from 70 Universities is showing Bayer gave £9m to fund research. It also includes more than £345,000 over the plant sciences.

Syngenta has spent nearly £7.1m, including just under £2.3m under plant sciences.

Funding for Research: Brexit

Ben Stewart of the GreenPeace UK’s “Brexit Response Team” says that decline in the Bee population was one of the major environmental and food security concern. It is causing a need which needs to be properly investigated.

Adding to the same he says, “But for this research to command public confidence, it needs to be independent and impartial, which is why public funding is so crucial. You wouldn’t want lung cancer studies to be heavily reliant on funds from tobacco firms, nor research on pesticides to be dependent on the companies making them.”

He has even been called on the Government for ensuring scientists have access to the same level of funding after Brexit. Mr. Stewart added, “As Brexit threatens to cut off vital public funds for this scientific field, our universities need a cast-iron guarantee from our Government that EU money will not be replaced by corporate Cash.”

Views of Researchers:

Dr Christopher Connolly from the Dundee University says that he is mainly concerned regarding the independence of the British academics which could be undermined. This could occur if private money becomes all important to Universities.

Further adding he says, “The opportunities will be greater for industry as the loss of EU research funding will be crippling to the UK. If that was the only major source of research funding that was coming, it wouldn’t be long before we ended up like the US, where they are very heavily dependent on industry relationships. The UK doesn’t fund enough research so researchers have to rely on industry and it’s getting worse and worse.”

Dr Connolly says, “People say it’s a controversial area, but it’s not really. Independent scientists tend not to disagree. It’s industry that tends to be saying they are safe.”

Professor Dave Goulson from the Sussex University biologist and specialising in bumblebees and also being author of the best-selling book A Sting in the Tale also says that there are quite many examples where it is good for industry to work with academics.

Further adding he says,” But clearly there are instances where it is not appropriate, particularly if the funding is coming from industry and it’s to study the safety of their own products, products they may be making literally billions from selling.”

Adding further he says, “If you do get money from industry, you are kind of under pressure to keep them sweet so they will give you more money. You will inevitably feel under some pressure to please them, to give them what they want. It creates a conflict of interest.”

Response over the Funding:

Professor Joyce Tait who has carried out work over the regulation of the agrochemical industry in 2013 was funded by the Government’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Syngenta. She told that she has received £20,000 from each.

Further adding she says, “It wasn’t biased in favour of Syngenta but it was at the end of the day critical of the political biases that were very clear within the EU regulatory system [against GM crops].” While adding that EU politicians has ignored the expert’s advice from the European Food Safety Authority.

Further adding she says, “If there was any obvious bias, they [the ESRC] would have wanted to pick it up. Syngenta didn’t have any say in what we reported. They weren’t pressuring us to bring it out in their favour.”

Professor Tait even added that she believed, “The balance of the evidence is now shifting more towards, yes, the neonicotinoids do have an impact on at least some bee species and we probably need to do something about that.”

Dr Little, stressed that they were only interested in the best science even if it found evidence which might cause a problem to the company.

Further adding he says, “I’ve not met too many academics who say ‘what result would you like. We want to work with the best people, the ones that really know their stuff. The people we work with are the best people and they are fiercely independent. I cannot believe for a moment any one of them would go ‘oh I better not say that, just in case the company doesn’t like it.”

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