What beast is this?

November 26, 2015

Your anonymous correspondent’s account of reviewing for the research excellence framework substantially reflects my own experience as a panellist in 2008 who was offered the chance to be renominated in 2014 (“Why I had to quit the research excellence framework panel”, Opinion, 19 November).

However, it also raises the question of what the exact nature of the task is. Panellists are not asked to read papers as if they were journal reviewers who would be expected to provide detailed and constructive feedback. It is also different from the kind of work that I do as a consultant on submissions, if I am asked to advise specifically on how unit members can improve their ratings. The REF task is much more like exam marking, against three criteria on a five-point scale, with a few notes to justify the decision if there is a disagreement with another reader. While accuracy in individual cases is desirable, what matters is the result for the unit. Most units offer enough decision points to be confident that errors will cancel out. Under these conditions, 20 minutes per paper actually seems excessive, once the panel has established its collective benchmarks.

Robert Dingwall
Dingwall Enterprises
Nottingham


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