Corrosive impact merits only dismissal (1 of 2)

April 14, 2011

Two years ago in this publication ("Modest revolt to save research from red tape", Letters, 12 February 2009), we wrote to express our concern with the research councils' new initiative now known as "Pathways to Impact". Following meetings with Research Councils UK in January and July 2010, we met the new minister for universities and science, David Willetts, who asked for evidence supporting our request for the initiative's termination and who also asked Alan Thorpe, chief executive of RCUK, to justify his support. Our paper, sent to Willetts on 8 September 2010, has been ignored. We have not seen Thorpe's promised justification.

We, the undersigned, believe that "Pathways to Impact" compromises UK academic research and wastes taxpayers' money. Researchers have proved time and again that they can handle financial hardship, but complete freedom is essential. Recall Ernest Rutherford's dictum: "When money is short, there is no alternative but to think." The initiative corrupts researchers' thinking, obliges them to prejudge results while planning their proposals and encourages them to aim for attainable goals.

We urge researchers invited to review "impact" submissions to make responses such as "I am not competent to assess the future potential socio-economic impact of this proposal". Indeed, we do not know of anyone who is competent in this respect. Acquiescing might offer short-term benefit, but the long-term damage could be irreversible.

Donald W. Braben, University College London

John F Allen, Queen Mary, University of London

William Amos, University of Cambridge

Michael Ashburner FRS, University of Cambridge

Jonathan Ashmore FRS, UCL

Tim Birkhead FRS, University of Sheffield

Mark S Bretscher FRS, Cambridge

Peter Cameron, Queen Mary, University of London

Richard S Clymo, Queen Mary, University of London

Richard Cogdell FRS, University of Glasgow

David Colquhoun FRS, UCL

Adam Curtis, Glasgow University

John Dainton FRS, University of Liverpool

Felipe Fernàndez-Armesto, University of Notre Dame

Pat Heslop-Harrison, University of Leicester; Dudley Herschbach, Harvard University, Nobel Laureate

H Robert Horvitz FRS, MIT, Nobel Laureate

Sir Tim Hunt FRS, Cancer Research UK, Nobel Laureate

Herbert Huppert FRS, University of Cambridge

Sir Alec Jeffreys FRS, US National Academy of Science, University of Leicester

H Jeff Kimble, Caltech, US National Academy of Sciences

Roger Kornberg FRS, Stanford University, Nobel Laureate

Sir Harry Kroto FRS, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Nobel Laureate

James Ladyman, University of Bristol

Michael F Land FRS, University of Sussex

Peter Lawrence FRS, University of Cambridge

Sir Anthony Leggett FRS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Nobel Laureate

Angus MacIntyre FRS, Queen Mary, University of London

Sotiris Missailidis, Open University

Philip Moriarty, University of Nottingham

Andrew Oswald, University of Warwick

Iain Pears, Oxford

Beatrice Pelloni, University of Reading

Lawrence Paulson, University of Cambridge

Douglas Randall, University of Missouri, US National Science Board member

David Ray, BioAstral Limited

Guy P Richardson FRS, University of Sussex

Sir Richard J Roberts FRS, New England Biolabs, Nobel Laureate

Ian Russell FRS, University of Sussex

Ken Seddon, Queen’s University of Belfast

Steve Sparks FRS, University of Bristol

Sir John Sulston FRS, University of Manchester, Nobel Laureate

Harry Swinney, University of Texas, US National Academy of Sciences

Iain Stewart, University of Durham

Claudio Vita-Finzi, Natural History Museum

David Walker FRS, University of Sheffield

Eric F Wieschaus, Princeton University, Nobel Laureate

Glynn Winskel, University of Cambridge

Lewis Wolpert FRS, UCL

Phil Woodruff FRS, University of Warwick

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