Making capital out of science

Colin Tudge (NS Essay: "Mad,bad and dangerous", 4 March) tells us that "the only research that's done at all is the kind that can make money", and that "Britain's scientists now typically spend two days a week scratching after commercial grants". As a practising research scientist for over 40 years, I do not recognise this scenario. Almost all of our basic science is funded via independent peer review by various government and charitable sources. Certainly, scientists are (quite properly) urged by the resource-providers to move their findings into commercial application where appropriate. This is not a trivial operation and crucially involves patent protection followed by a complex and expensive development phase. This is where capital enters the loop (not at the beginning). One of the reasons for this capital-intensive phase is the expectation of the public (backed up by the media) of a risk-free product involving rigid regulatory and safety requirements.

Professor W C Russell
University of St Andrews, Fife