The Royal Society
Bill Courtney made four attempts to alert The Royal Society to the research fraud problems at Manchester University.
But each time they used a skillful form of words to avoid confronting the truth.
Here is a sample response.
Here is a copy of the original letter that was received by Lord May
Tel/Fax 0161 980 5191, Mobile: 07913561887
22 March 2005
Your Ref: C10589X
Dr. John Farrow, College Coordinator
Engineering and Physical Science Research Council
North Star Avenue
c.c. Lord May of Oxford OM AC Kt, President of the Royal Society
Graham Brady MP
Dear Dr. Farrow,
Thank you for inviting me to nominate members for the new College Panel. Unfortunately, my first and only experience of collaborating on an EPSRC funded project has been a bad one, so I am unable to contribute.
I hope the British scientific community can learn from the details of my experience given below. Evidence will be produced, that a selective use of the peer review system and an unjustified recourse to law are being used to bury the truth about suspect research into crash injury mitigation devices and a novel vehicle suspension system. I appreciate that you may not be the best person to assess what can be learned from the following case study. If necessary, please pass this letter and appendices to appropriate colleagues.
In 1986, while working as a Physics teacher, I invented a new class of composite, highly elastic fluids, that have good impact energy absorbing properties. I promote this composite fluid under the brand name Shock Absorbing Liquid, abbreviated to SALi Technology. Although simple in concept, SALi Technology requires considerable research, before it can be incorporated into commercial products. I saved up for ten years, then in 1996, at the age of fifty, I took early retirement to develop SALi Technology. Initially, I worked as an MPhil student in the University of Manchester, School of Engineering. Subsequently, I collaborated with the University as a research fellow.
In 1999, Dow Chemicals read about my work. This resulted in a partnership consisting of Dow, the University of Manchester and Cheshire Innovation winning EPSRC/Foresight Vehicle funding, to develop a prototype soft, pedestrian friendly car bumper, to meet pending EU requirements. (Project name: PedSALi)
It rapidly became clear to the industrial partners that the principal investigator in charge of the University research was making poor management decisions and that the research was not making progress. As the Project Lead Partner, I expressed my concerns to the principal investigator's line manager, verbally and in writing. Dow's representative also wrote to the line manager, warning that the window of commercial opportunity was rapidly closing.
No changes were made, so I wrote to the Head of The University School of Engineering, sending him a detailed report , describing the problems we were facing and the mutual benefits to be gained, if they could be resolved. I also requested a face-to-face meeting.
The Head of School did not reply.
I informed Manchester Innovation Limited (MIL), the commercial arm of the University, about our problems. They explained that for internal reasons, the principal investigator could not be replaced. As a second best solution, MIL suggested broadening the University research team by bringing in an additional research worker. A mechanism for doing this was agreed between MIL and Cheshire Innovation. It involved bidding for DTI Smart funding, plus top-up funding from Cheshire Innovation.
(Appendix 11 includes a financial summary of the funding plan.)
The bid for DTI Smart funding was successful, with the second research worker starting work one year after the start of the PedSALi project. (DTI Smart project name: CrashSALi )
The benefits of having a second research worker were short lived. In a curious series of events, the PedSALi research worker resigned and the second research worker stepped in, to fill his place.
Cheshire Innovation had invested significant resources training up the second research worker. So, when he was transferred to the PedSALi work, I submitted a request for compensation. The University responded with a letter, offering a discount on the CrashSALi research fees.
However, when they learned that the discount savings would be used to fund additional SALi research at UMIST, the offer was withdrawn. This caused a breakdown in the relationship between the University and Cheshire Innovation.
(For details, see "Key Events" section of Appendix 9, especially from 8 March 2003 onwards.)
Consequences for the DTI Smart Project: As explained in Appendix 9, the DTI Smart research continued under written protest of breach of contract from Cheshire Innovation and without my supervision. The final DTI Smart CrashSALi project report, delivered in January 2004, was deeply flawed and of no commercial value. It was returned to the University Vice-Chancellor, accompanied by a set of annotation notes, explaining why it was deficient. The University has declined to make good its work.
(Appendix 10.2 is based on part of the annotation notes sent to the Vice-Chancellor.)
Consequences for the Foresight Vehicle PedSALi Project:
Thirty months after the start of the University research, Dow had not received any usable research data from the University. This prevented Dow from even starting their agreed project work. Dow had originally valued the EU soft bumper market at US$90 million/annum, but due to delays in a suitable bumper being developed, the EU had watered down the safety requirements. So, by the spring of 2004, the window of commercial opportunity for a soft bumper had closed.
In April 2004, the Department for Transport proposed an arbitration meeting at their London HQ, Great Minster House, to try to move the project forward. But after reading the background report, prepared by myself as lead partner and hearing of Dow's commercial analysis, the meeting was cancelled. (Appendix 9 is a copy of my report.)
The PedSALi project was wound up in July 2004, with the agreement of the DfT, Dow and Cheshire Innovation.
(Appendix 8 is copy of the lead partner's letter, proposing the winding up of the PedSALi project)
In August 2004, I learned that the University PedSALi work was continuing, even though the project had been wound up.
On hearing the news, my main concerns were:
(i) In an attempt to claim EPSRC funding, the University might publish flawed research work.
(ii) This would make it very difficult for me to win future EPSRC funding. No assessment panel would take me seriously, if I submitted a bid, without referring to published PedSALi project papers, sponsored by the EPSRC. On the other hand, citing poor research would be unprofessional and equally damming.
My concerns were expressed in an email to the EPSRC representative, Dr. Bailey.
(Appendices 5 and 6 are hard copies of my email and the EPSRC reply.)
Examples of my attempts to prevent the disputes spoiling relations with the new University of Manchester
(i) In August 2004, as part of an on-going correspondence, I wrote to the Vice-Chancellor of the Victoria University of Manchester, nominating two internal arbitrators; experienced people who possessed a background knowledge of the SALi research disputes, and were aware that I was seeking an amicable resolution.
The Vice-Chancellor did not reply.
(Appendix 7 is a copy of my email letter to the Vice-Chancellor)
(ii) In October 2004, my constituency MP, Graham Brady attempted to negotiate with the new University of Manchester, to get the flawed CrashSALi research repeated.
The mutual benefits of an amicable solution: In 2001, Cheshire innovation had signed a 50:50 royalty sharing agreement with the University, covering sales of all SALi based products. If good research results had been converted into products, the University would have benefited financially. Also, prior to the amalgamation, I had an excellent working relationship with UMIST engineers, with the CrashSALi plan of work being inspired by the published work of Prof. Reid at UMIST. So it would appear that repeating the CrashSALi work would be in the best, long term interest, of both parties.
It came as a surprise, when the University responded to my MP's letters by instructing their solicitor to pursue me for the outstanding payment, for the worthless CrashSALi research report.
(Appendices 3 and 4 are copies of letters written by my MP and the University solicitors, Eversheds.)
I was puzzled by their heavy handed response and speculated that the University action was a smoke-screen, to hide some deeper problem. To look for clues, I carried out an Internet search.
This revealed evidence that the University researchers had breached the confidentiality clauses of the PedSALi Collaboration agreement between Dow, the University and Cheshire Innovation, by publishing their research findings at two conferences in America, without the agreement of Cheshire Innovation. - Presumably, to enable them to claim EPSRC funding.
In preparing my defence against the Universities recourse to law, I wrote to the EPSRC, requesting information, to check my smoke screen hypothesis. Their reply made evasive references to the peer review system and was unhelpful.
(Appendices 1 and 2 are copies of this correspondence.)
My response to the evasive EPSRC peer review statement
I am the inventor of SALi Technology and the most experienced peer in this area of research. My SALi publications include an MPhil thesis, three journal papers, four conference papers, four published patent applications, three patents granted.
The EPSRC was made aware on several occasions of my concerns about the quality of the University research and that I was worried about the damaging consequences of its publication.. E.g., see Appendices 1, 5 and 8. These warnings should have been heeded.
My claim that the research was flawed is supported by the experience of Dow Chemicals, who were unable to contribute to the PedSALi project, because the University did not supply them with valid data.
I recognise that the present case is a most unusual one for the EPSRC to handle and that their response was well intended. Nevertheless, the EPSRC, as a public purse holder, should not turn a blind eye to the publishing of suspect research, if this damages British business interests.
In conclusion. As you will see from pages 2 and 3 of Appendix 9, there has been considerable commercial interest in SALi. But this interest comes from project engineers; people in a hurry, who lose interest in SALi, after learning that the existing research projects have ground to a halt.
Nineteen years after inventing SALi Technology and investing approximately £140,000 of my own resources in its development, I now face the prospect of defending myself in an expensive legal action.
This is not a satisfactory outcome. British science will not flourish, if burying mistakes takes precedence over learning from them.
Bill Courtney (Trading as Cheshire Innovation)
Summary of Appendices
Letter to Dr. R. Bailey, EPSRC, requesting information on whether or not the University of Manchester had published papers relating to the PedSALi project.
Dr. R. Bailey's reply on behalf of the EPSRC.
Letter from Graham Brady MP to the University solicitors Eversheds, requesting further time for his investigations into the problems surrounding University/Cheshire Innovation relationship to be completed.
Letter from Eversheds to Cheshire Innovation. This states on behalf of the University, that the MPs intervention is irrelevant and their action in pursuit of outstanding payments will continue. Their deadline for payment was 21st March 2005.
Hard copy of a Cheshire Innovation email to the EPSRC representative, et. al,
(i) Warning of the potential commercial damage, if flawed PedSALi research is published.
(ii) Citing an example of the flawed research.
Hard copy of EPSRC reply.
Hard copy of an email from Cheshire Innovation to the Vice-Chancellor of the Victoria (i.e. pre amalgamation) University of Manchester.
(i) This provides evidence to support my claim of a good working relationship with UMIST engineers, prior to the amalgamation.
(ii) It demonstrates my willingness to co-operate with arbitrators from within the new University, to resolve the outstanding disputes.
The Vice-Chancellor did not respond to my arbitration proposal.
Letter from Cheshire Innovation, as the lead partner for the PedSALi project, proposing that the project be wound up. This letter was sent out after consultation with representatives of Dow Chemicals and received their support.
Letter setting out Cheshire Innovation's perspective, on why the PedSALi project had collapsed.
An electronic version of the letter was copied to the EPSRC representative.
Two illustrative examples to support my claims that the University research was flawed.
The first example is from the EPSRC supported PedSALi project.
The second example is from the Smart DTI supported CrashSALi project.
Summary of funding allocated for PedSALi and CrashSALi projects.