Nobel laureates join fight against impact-based research funding

Petition asks funding councils to scrap proposals to assess impact in REF. Melanie Newman reports

October 22, 2009

Six Nobel laureates have signed a petition denouncing plans to fund research based on its economic or social impact.

Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, the University of Cambridge professor who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this year, has signed a University and College Union statement that asks the UK higher education funding councils to withdraw plans to measure the impact of research in the forthcoming research excellence framework.

It is proposed that the REF, which will replace the research assessment exercise in determining the allocation of almost £2 billion a year in quality-related research funding, will make the "impact" of work count for up to 25 per cent of a research team's overall score.

The professor's name appears on the petition alongside those of fellow chemistry prizewinners, Sir Harry Kroto and Sir John Walker, and of Brian Josephson, who won the prize for physics in 1973.

The other Nobel prizewinners to sign the petition are Sir Tim Hunt and Sir Richard Roberts, who won the prize for physiology or medicine in 2001 and 1993 respectively.

The statement, so far signed by dozens of academics, calls on the funding bodies to "work ... on creating a funding regime that supports and fosters basic research ... rather than discourages it".

"We believe that it is counterproductive to make funding for the best research conditional on its perceived economic and social benefits," it says. "The REF proposals are founded on a lack of understanding of how knowledge advances. It is often difficult to predict which research will create the greatest practical impact."


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