Non-scientists could still contribute to reform of the ERC

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Sir

The mid-term review of the European Research Council (ERC), the European homologue of the US National Science Foundation, draws attention to some of the council's bureaucratic shortcomings.

Towards a World-class Frontier Research Organisation (http://tinyurl.com/noa7ra), published in July, highlights the ERC's initial successes. But it points out that the council's long-term sustainability depends on a drastic reduction in red tape, better governance structures, more autonomy under a better-suited legal framework and several other reforms.

The reviewers argue that ERC steering bodies should not include too many non-scientists, nor be run by them. But an over-enthusiastic exclusion of non-scientists risks conveying a 'closed shop' impression. It would fly in the face of the principle of diversity management, in which different competencies and backgrounds are deployed to run a complex, multi-faceted societal enterprise such as the ERC.

Such a scheme would also undermine the professionalization that is proclaimed in the report, as well as closing doors to the taxpayer and people outside the inner rank and file. We must presume that this is not the reviewers' intention, but the point nevertheless calls for clarification, not least to enhance the impact of an otherwise strong report.

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Krull, W., Edler, J. & Stampfer, M. Non-scientists could still contribute to reform of the ERC. Nature 460, 1079 (2009) doi:10.1038/4601079d

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