Still time to influence the impact agenda 2

December 3, 2009

"Impact statements are intended ultimately to benefit society," argues Dave Delpy, "not interfere with funding" ("They're not unreasonable", 26 November). However, he seems to be unaware of the basic issue we scientists and innovators have with "impact". Whatever he understands by the term, it is already being used to influence the award of research council funding, alongside the scientific merit evaluated by the traditional peer-review process.

The point is that the introduction of impact as a criterion jeopardises, rather than enhances, the returns to the UK taxpayer. Because this is proven, and because I am a taxpayer, I have no alternative but to warn of the damage of using impact until Delpy and his colleagues grasp the point. I would not be doing my duty as a scientist and a taxpayer if I didn't persist with my objections.

So in pursuing my duty, my question to Delpy and his colleagues is whether Sir Ernest Rutherford would have been funded for his work on the atomic nucleus at the universities of Manchester and Cambridge with an application adorned with the following impact statement: "Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of the atom is talking moonshine." After all, that's what he said at the time.

John Dainton, Founding Director, Cockcroft Institute of Accelerator Science and Technology, Daresbury International Science Park.

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