Impact is created in immeasurable ways 1

November 12, 2009

How ironic that the "senior sector figures" should be protected by Chatham House rules, when the powerful rulers single me out as a powerless ordinary academic ("Managers and scholars divided as resistance grows to impact agenda", 5 November).

How ridiculous that they should attempt to undermine the movement against impact by picking on me as its representative with my utter lack of distinction compared with all the fellows of the Royal Society and fellows of the British Academy who have signed my petition and/or the University and College Union one, or the ten Nobel laureates in the open letter to the research councils. How typical that they should, without evidence, claim that the young are happy with the impact agenda but the "middle territory" has "lost the plot". On the contrary, many young doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers have signed the petitions, as have many senior figures.

How sad that we cannot expect those who lead universities to argue more fairly than the politician who characterises an opponent of detention without trial as someone who wants to see terrorists roam free. Those opposed to the impact agenda do not want universities to not contribute to society. We know that universities contribute massively to society, and we believe the impact agenda threatens to undermine this contribution by rewarding and encouraging a particularly narrow kind of short-term impact. That academics want their research to have impact is beside the point. Of course we do, but we also expect that impact to come in many small and immeasurable ways, not least through the indirect effects that research-led teaching has by fostering independent critical thought in students. The only evidence we have that the senior sector figures have any brains at all is that they are not willing to have their names associated with the nonsense they spout.

James Ladyman, Department of philosophy, University of Bristol.

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