Sunday, 20 February 2011

Freedom of Information

My university have just received a Freedom of Information request in respect of the information contained within my last research grant proposal (the grant was awarded but isn't due to start until July 1st). Turns out the University have never seen such a request before. It does feel a bit weird to think that my grant proposal was specifically singled out, and I can't help but wonder what information they're after that they couldn't have just emailed me for it. Undoubtedly, the Freedom of Information Act is terrifically useful: How else could we have known that the UK postal service uses 2 million red rubber bands each day? Such information is so much in the public interest that it was posted today, after being revealed under Freedom of Information, on the BBC News website. Trust me - this nugget of information is way more interesting than anything contained within my grant proposal!

Actually, that last statement is quite untrue. I consider the ideas contained within that grant proposal to be the best work of my career. But it does seem a little odd that even before I can start work turning those ideas into publishable research, someone whom I don't know, whose identity is kept from me, can in principle take those ideas and do with them as they will.

The truth is, however, that it's very unlikely they're after my ideas - I give those away quite freely to anyone who's willing to listen! My guess is they're instead trying to find out what the UK Government's science research budget is spent on these days. Well, for a lot less than the cost of making a Freedom of Information request, I can tell you what they spend it on: Quality science that ensures a future in which we shall all know then more than we each know now. That's Freedom of Information.