Differential impact 2

December 31, 2009

While very much in favour of the resistance to the impact agenda as any kind of rational measure of research, am I the only one who finds the term “curiosity-driven” research naive, self-defeating and inaccurate? Naive because it makes serious academics carrying out research that has no immediate impact outside the academy look like self-absorbed dilettantes; self-defeating because it makes necessary work look like an economic luxury in the present climate; and inaccurate because it fails to capture the objective conditions that drive research.

A point of comparison may help to clarify this. Economic life in the UK is rarely described by policymakers as driven by subjective forces such as greed, ambition and financial desperation, but rather by the objective conditions of supply, demand and technological innovation. Similarly, all good research is driven by cutting-edge theory, evidence and technology. “Curiosity” is a subjective, if felicitous, adjunct to research activity.

Martin Mills
Senior lecturer in the anthropology of religion
University of Aberdeen

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