No way to manage tragedy

April 16, 2015

So the death of Stefan Grimm may not have been prevented even “if revised policies on performance management had been in place” (“New policy may not have prevented Imperial scholar’s suicide, inquest told”, News, 9 April).

Surely what this tells us is that Imperial College London does not need better “performance management” policies, but rather an abolition of the performance targets that equate good performance with financial targets of grant income. I have already given my opinions on such targets in my piece “The big grant money. The big papers. Are we missing anything?” (Opinion, 15 January). I am distressed to find that Imperial just doesn’t get it, and seems to think that it can avoid future tragedies by just “managing” people and “supporting” them in dealing with the crazy targets that they are confronted with. In particular, it seems to have no understanding of the fact that there is a good element of randomness in whose grants get funded.

Placing so much emphasis on annual funding targets is bad for science, creates a dysfunctional incentive structure and is even worse for the individuals who try to do good science.

Dorothy Bishop
Professor of developmental neuropsychology
University of Oxford

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