There appears to be a generation gap among researchers when it comes to attitudes towards impact, with early career researchers more likely to say that their research “must always have an impact on society”.
The results come from a recent global survey of 3,500 researchers by Elsevier to track attitudes towards impact.
In the 2014 research excellence framework assessment, 20 per cent of the final score controversially depended on the impact of research.
This ongoing debate about whether and how to measure research impact was reflected in the survey responses. “It is often the case that discoveries may have an impact in the future that is not obvious currently. Having a short-term vision of impact is not in society’s best interest,” said a 54-year old psychology academic based in Canada. But another respondent, a younger computer science scholar based in Switzerland, said: “There’s no point in doing research from which society cannot benefit.”
Although researchers were split over the need for impact, nearly two in three thought that their work did make a difference in a non-academic context. Just 11 per cent said that it did not, while about a quarter were unsure.