Losing an independent research voice

Sir, – The stated purpose of the role of chief scientific adviser to the government is “to provide the government with independent…

Sir, – The stated purpose of the role of chief scientific adviser to the government is “to provide the government with independent, expert advice on issues related to public science policy”. It was with dismay therefore, that we learned of the Government’s decision to undermine the independence of the chief scientific adviser role (Home News, October 27th), by merging it with the role of director general of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI).

As medical research charities, we play an important role in the support of research that will lead to patient benefit. In order to be effective in this, it is essential that we fund research from the fundamental to the applied ends of the research spectrum.

While we believe that this spread of funding is critical to improvements in healthcare, there has been wider debate on the relative merits of funding fundamental research versus applied research which is focused on short-term economic benefits.

In this context, we lament the loss of an independent voice, that is not associated with the particular remit of any one funding agency, to advise on how the State spends its research budget.

In addition, we question if it is appropriate to ask the director general of SFI to impartially assess the effectiveness of either the SFI strategy or that of the other agencies charged with spending the national research budget.

Finally, we believe that the decision to merge the role of chief scientific adviser with another exceptionally demanding role has the potential to weaken it and is at odds with the Government’s stated support for science.

We believe this decision has negative implications for the many, many Irish patients who pin their hopes on medical research. – Yours, etc,

PHILIP WATT, Chairman, Medical Research Charities Group CEO, The Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland; GERRY McELVANEY, Alpha One Foundation; MAURICE O’CONNELL, Alzheimer Society of Ireland; JOHN CHURCH, Arthritis Ireland; Sharon Cosgrove, Asthma Society of Ireland; PETER MURPHY, Brainwave: The Irish Epilepsy Association; TOMMY MONAHAN, Children’s Leukaemia Research Project; Anne MARIE O’DOWD, Cystinosis Foundation Ireland; AVRIL KENNAN, DEBRA Ireland; JIMMY MOONEY, Duchenne Ireland; AVRIL DALY, Fighting Blindness; MARGARET ROGERS, Heart Children Ireland; JOHN McCORMACK,Irish Cancer Society; CAROLINE CULLEN, Irish Heart Foundation; SUZANNE McCORMACK,Irish Thoracic Society; KAREN PICKERING, Muscular Dystrophy Ireland; METTE JENSEN, Research Education Foundation: Sligo General Hospital; JOHN FLEMING, Sightsavers International MARY MOREHEAD,

The Mater Foundation.

(All above are members of the Medical Research Charities Group),

C/o Grove Road, Rathmines,

Dublin 6.