Quality is about more than cash 3

April 21, 2006

Is there a shred of reliable empirical evidence that demonstrates that the research assessment exercise has achieved anything other than wasting large amounts of time and money (Opinion, April 14)?

The exercise is methodologically and philosophically fraudulent. Its sole function is to provide UK governments with an excuse to underfund basic research, an excuse conveniently provided by academics.

If the aim of the exercise were to improve research then it would need to recognise the fundamental characteristics of basic research. The first is that real progress is extremely difficult to make. The second is that the direction of progress is unpredictable. The third is that the unit of success is a given piece of research, not the prestige of the journal in which it is published, the size of the research grant that funded it, or even the reputation of the researchers. The fourth is that time is the only true judge of research quality.

The use of a melange of pseudometrics and subjective assessments as practised by the RAE is doomed to failure, even if the real interest is in improving research quality. It is probable that the era of the RAE will eventually be seen as the period when basic research in the UK went into terminal decline as bureaucracy stifled creativity.

R. J. Wootton
Llanbadarn Fawr

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