Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Impact's Winged Chariot

The President of the ERC has rejected the impact agenda, reports the Times Higher. At a conference last week Helga Nowotny said that there was an 'inherent tension' between the blue skies research supported by the ERC, and the 'demands of policymakers for practical innovation.'

'It all looks so easy, so obvious', she suggested, as politicians scrabbled to harness scientific research to pull European economies out of recession. 'But frontier science does not work like this. We cannot programme scientific breakthroughs or order them from a menu...We can't foresee the consequences of what we discover.' Politicians needed to trust 'the cunning of reason' to find uses for apparently 'useless' knowledge.

She pledged to uphold the ERC's independence in the face of political demands. 'It is very obvious that if we were to step back from the principle of excellence by only a tiny bit, it would be the end of the ERC,' she said.

How refreshing. Now I'm not saying that impact is a useless cul de sac, or that it diverts academic time and energy from the task in hand. However, I do think that it is not appropriate for all research and all projects, and we shouldn't have to try and shoehorn all research into impact's glass slipper.

Nowotny should be applauded for taking a stand and allowing the ERC's award holders the opportunity to breathe, to pursue research for research's sake, and not to have to look over their shoulders at impact's winged chariot hurrying near.

No comments:

Post a Comment