Monday, 28 March 2011

Haldane RIP?

For anyone who read the splurge of thematic priorities that was the AHRC Delivery Plan 2011-15, there was an interesting twist to the tale in the Observer on Sunday. Apparently the government had the Council 'over a barrel', and was demanding that they prioritise work on 'the Big Society', otherwise it would withdraw £100m of funding.
It's depressing news. Not only do the arts and humanities already receive the smallest share of the science budget, but a chunk of what they do get now has to be directed towards the spurious goals of the 'Big Society'.
There's a wider issue here. The government's alleged demands infringe on the demarcation between political priorities and independent research marked out in the Haldance principle 90 years ago. Whilst the origin of the principle is up for dispute, it's establishment since the 1960s should be treasured and guarded. Instead, a recent government - ahem - 'clarification' of the principle said (to quote the Observer) 'that research bodies must work to the government's national objectives, although the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that ministers will not meddle in individual projects.'
Not very reassuring. So will researchers take the King's shilling and scrabble aboard the Big Society, or make a stand against this political interference?

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