Formula for hollow mirth

March 20, 2008

Philip Esler (Letters, 13 March) says that your report ("RCUK abandons impact formula", 6 March) and my opinion article ("What price knowledge?, 6 March), "exaggerate" the volte-face by Research Councils UK because they had "never proposed an algorithm" for measuring the economic benefits of research. But nobody said they had proposed such an algorithm. What was said was that they had been trying to find one but had abandoned the quest because of "too many variables".

This was backed up, in the original report in Times Higher Education and in my article, by a direct quote: "We want to get to the stage where we can say with an investment of x we get a return of y." This is the quest for a calculable, effective formula giving one figure as a function of another - or, in short, an algorithm.

Unless RCUK disowns the quotation, the news report - and my attempt to extract some hollow mirth from what would otherwise be merely tragedy - stands.

Simon Blackburn, Professor of philosophy, University of Cambridge.

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