Seventy senior academics, in an open letter to The Daily Telegraph, said changes introduced by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council are "damaging scientific discovery in Britain" because civil servants have taken on new powers to decide what kinds of science are to be funded.
A pledge by David Willetts, the universities and science minister, to make Britain "the best place in the world to do science" would be difficult to achieve, the letter said, because the council had "exceeded its remit so spectacularly."
The letter urges Willets either to overhaul or replace the council.
"We're being asked [by the council] to identify where our program may go in 10 to 50 years' time," David O'Hagan from the University of St. Andrews said. "This is anti-intellectual. Nobody involved in research would pretend to know where embryonic ideas may lead."
One member of the council called the accusations "a major and gross misrepresentation."
"We believe the new policies will protect and improve U.K. research," Attila Emecz, director of strategy at the research council, said.
MAVEN now orbiting Mars