Not-so-deep impact: REF case study looks beyond cricket to pop

Oxford Brookes’ submission on Duckworth-Lewis details formula’s influence

July 2, 2015
Shallow mud-filled hole

If you thought that demonstrating research impact was all about showing how your paper had transformed society in some fundamental way, think again. Simply proving that it has been criticised by sports stars and influenced the name of a pop group may be enough.

Duckworth-Lewis – co-created by former Oxford Brookes University statistician Tony Lewis – is the globally adopted method used to calculate run targets for teams batting second in limited-overs matches interrupted by bad weather.

The system has been criticised by England cricket captains and even taken as the name of a cricket-loving Irish pop group. All that was claimed as evidence of research impact by Oxford Brookes in last year’s research excellence framework in a submission that may offer broader insights into the way that universities approach impact.

The Duckworth-Lewis impact case study, submitted by Oxford Brookes to the business and management studies unit of assessment, is titled “operational research principles ensure a fairer outcome for interrupted limited-overs cricket matches”.

The original method was published in a 1998 paper co-authored by Frank Duckworth and Dr Lewis when the latter was at the University of the West of England, says the submission. It adds: “In 2004, [while] employed as a senior lecturer [in quantitative methods in management] at Oxford Brookes University, an article by Lewis (co-authored with Duckworth) reviewed the robustness of the original D/L method whilst providing fuller details of the model behind the method.”

The upgraded formula to calculate run targets, known as the “professional edition”, was the catchy “Z(u,0,λ)= Z0 F(w)λ n(w)+1 {1- exp (- bu/[λ n(w)F(w)])}”.

In a section headed “details of the impact”, the case study asserts that the “important contribution that the D/L method has made to a popular pursuit has led to an increasing awareness of the value of the mathematical sciences in areas far removed from academia”.

The submission quotes Paul Collingwood, when captain of the England Twenty20 side in 2010, as saying after a loss to the West Indies after a rain delay: “There’s a major problem with Duckworth-Lewis in this form of the game.” But if Mr Collingwood had imbibed “an increasing awareness of the value of the mathematical sciences in areas far removed from academia”, he wasn’t sharing it.

The case study also details “secondary impacts arising from the research observed through the D/L method’s influence on popular culture and society”. It continues: “The Irish pop group took this name and produced a ‘cricket concept’ album that was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award in April 2010 and, on 1 July 2013, they released a second album ‘Sticky Wickets’.”

Of course, Duckworth-Lewis has had other quite significant impacts – take all the money that must have been saved from cricket matches that weren’t abandoned due to rain, for instance. But who needs to demonstrate that when you have changed the face of pop?

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