The recent discussions about the working of the British Academy raise an issue that many would wish to see addressed. In these days of growing transparency and accountability, it would certainly be helpful for those with an interest in the successful future of such an important body to know how the system ensures that all those with a prima facie case for membership are properly considered.
The academy's prestige could only be enhanced if it were explained to outsiders how inappropriate personal considerations are convincingly eliminated from the selection process and how highly specialised subjects are fairly represented and research in them expertly evaluated.
Perhaps some indication could be given of the procedures that exist for assessing whether one scholar's publication of a single monograph is more significant than another's ten volumes, and for overall external monitoring.
These and similar questions do not appear to be satisfactorily answered in the BA's publications, nor on its website. No doubt its secretary will take steps to promote this debate and to enlighten those who pay the taxes that rightly and properly fund such institutions.
Stefan C. Reif
Professor and fellow of St John's College, Cambridge