No laughing matter

April 19, 2012

Philip Diamond is wrong to think that Michael Duff's cultural impact should allay his concerns about the impact agenda ("Winning formula", Letters, 12 April). Pathways to Impact requires researchers to think about impact and non-academic users at the earliest stages of their research. This means Duff would have had to have thought about The Big Bang Theory at the point when he applied for funding to do the work that led to the formula that appeared in the sitcom. There is no part of the multiverse in which that would have been sensible.

Duff's research is not directly about the Everett interpretation of quantum mechanics, so his advice to the director of Constellations would not count for the research excellence framework's purposes because the REF requires a direct link between a specific piece of research and its cited impact.

Those defending the impact agenda cite such examples to establish the principle that academic work does and should have impact without paying attention to the specific ways that the agenda has been implemented in research council and Higher Education Funding Council for England policy. Furthermore, there are many examples of academic work having profound impact but only years after it was carried out and in ways that could not have been foreseen.

James Ladyman, Head of philosophy, University of Bristol

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