Monday, 7 April 2014

'The Sower of Discord'

Somewhere in Turkmenistan
Last week David Willetts suggested that the Government was considering 'franchising' the REF to countries overseas. Now read on.

A terrorist arms bazaar, somewhere in Afghan/Turkmenistan border, a la Tomorrow Never Dies. Amidst all the hardware is a small stall piled high with A4 brochures. A bald man in rimless glasses stands behind the stall. He's wearing a Life of Brian style beard.

Willetts (for it is he): Pssst!
Terrorist (points to himself): Who, me?
Willetts: Yes! Are you interested in causing (looks to left and right) chaos and confusion?
Terrorist: Well...
Willetts: Do you want to blow apart civilisation? Destroy social conventions? Do you want to strike  at the heart of the intelligensia?
Terrorist (suspiciously): Maybe...
Willetts: Ah! Come! I have a wondrous weapon! More powerful than any nuclear warhead! More dangerous than a box of hand grenades without their pins!
Terrorist (looking at the stall, and picking up a brochure entitled 'Panel Criteria and Working Methods'): But this is just a...
Willetts: (waving his arms) Don't be fooled my friend! This has the potential to return society to a prehistoric struggle for survival! (Grabs the brochure and stabs his fingers at its cover) This has the power to make 'civilised' people claw each other's eyes out, and trample each other into the dirt! Not only that, but you can force the smartest people in your country to spend hours - weeks! - years! in futile bureaucracy!
Terrorist (shaking his head): That will never happen.
Willetts: It will! I have tried it and I know it works! You don't need guns, you don't need tanks. All you need is 'The Sower of Discord'!
Terrorist: 'Sower of Discord'? Is that its name?
Willetts: Yes! It is the Armageddon Machine! But we must move stealthily. In my country it has been codenamed (whispers): 'The Research Excellence Framework'.
Terrorist: So how does it work, this Sower of Discord?
Willetts: Ah! That is the clever part! This is the - mwhahahah! - genius of my plan! These intelligent infidels are the creators of their own destruction! See, I give them a pile of money and say that they have divide it up amongst themselves. But they mustn't do it equitably! Oh no! They must work out who is the 'cleverest' amongst them.
Terrorist: That doesn't sound too hard.
Willetts: Oh but it is! How do you measure 'clever', eh? Eh?
Terrorist: Hmm.
Willetts: Yes! They tear themselves apart with H Indexes, and impact factors, and all sorts of crazy bibliometrics! But my friend, I've not got to the best bit. Not only do they have to work out who is the cleverest, but also who is the most - heh! heh! -  'impactful'.
Terrorist: What does that mean?
Willetts (eyes gleaming): Ah - ha! That is the genius! No one knows! And we do not tell them! We just say, 'work it out for yourselves!' Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! It creates institutional and personal madness! Madness!
Terrorist (with disgust): But that is...monstrous. What kind of sick individual are you? I may be a terrorist, but I do have some standards. You keep your, your...so-called 'Research Framework Excellence'. I'm off to buy some canisters of sarin gas.

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