Principle needs clarification

June 30, 2011

The report of my contribution to the recent British Academy discussion of the Haldane principle and the independence of research ("Haldane myth prevents a 'grown-up approach' to setting of research policy", 23 June) could give the impression that in rejecting the so-called Haldane principle I am rejecting what it is supposed to stand for.

My point was rather that it is very unclear what it is thought to have been, and that neither in principle nor in practice has it defended us from wrong-headed government policies for research, or indeed against autonomous research councils acting in ways that are antithetical to academic autonomy and excellence.

We need a new set of principles and, more importantly, practices that will actually ensure that state-funded academic research is for the public good, while also promoting excellence and independence in academic research, and generating knowledge that helps countervail private and state interests.

Academic autonomy and high-quality research need to be fought for, not merely defended. It behoves us to fight for both with arguments that withstand critical scrutiny.

David Edgerton, Hans Rausing professor, Imperial College London

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