Research for its own sake

May 14, 2009

Philip Esler is unfair to critics of the Arts and Humanities Research Council's impact agenda such as Peter Barry when he accuses them of taking no account of "the interests of taxpayers" ("We inhabit a changed world and it is our duty to engage with it", 30 April). Those of us who oppose the research council's emphasis on impact do so because we do not believe its policy is in the best interests of taxpayers. Accusing us of wishing to promote our own interests as researchers is a cheap shot, and it is lamentable that we cannot expect better from someone in Esler's position.

The impact agenda is distorting research priorities and distracting academics from their core activity, which is to produce scholarship for the consumption of their peers, who are usually the only people equipped to understand it and interested enough in it to bother trying. It is Esler who does not seem to be living in the real world but in an imaginary one invented at the behest of politicians and the bureaucrats of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, who are blind to the importance of research conducted for its own sake.

James Ladyman, Department of philosophy, University of Bristol.

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