Impediments to excellence

October 14, 2010

Alan Thorpe does a good job of explaining that UK research is of the highest quality and delivers great benefits to society ("Listen out for the impact", 30 September). This success is the legacy of a funding regime in which nobody had yet thought up the concept of "impact". Are we really supposed to believe that Thorpe and his colleagues at the research councils are going to engineer a better system? If it isn't broken, don't fix it.

The impact agenda is already distracting people from research. Academics everywhere are taking up the challenge to market their departments and themselves. This is a recipe for sophistry, hyperbole and mediocrity. Thousands of ordinary academics signed petitions saying so, but those who administer research have carried on regardless.

Meanwhile, most senior academics in the arts and humanities have failed to speak out against impact and call the administrators on their bullshit. Hence, the British Academy quietly campaigns for 15 per cent not 25 per cent for impact in the research excellence framework, instead of taking a stand and defending the integrity of scholarship.

The best predictor of the positive impact of academic work is academic excellence. All this managerial nonsense only gets in the way.

James Ladyman, Department of philosophy University of Bristol.

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