There are some interesting quotes from the UK’s University and Science Minister David Willetts in an article on science policy from the Times Higher Education (THE). Mr Willetts has been seeking to allay researchers’ ‘common anxieties,’ particularly those relating to the measurement of ‘impact.’
The UK Government hands out money to its higher education funding bodies, which distribute that money according to the results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which will be completed in 2014. Traditionally, the predecessor of the REF (the Research Assessment Exercise) measured ‘impact’ of research by counting numbers of publications in high impact factor journals. Mr Willetts seems to be saying that the Journal Impact Factor will not play a role in the REF:
Reaction on twitter seems to be a little bit sceptical of such blue sky thinking–after all, the REF is administered by individuals who no doubt will look at a journal’s impact factor–but it’s heartening to see the will is there, anyway.
The Government appear to be treading a very tricky path, actually. Mr Willetts also said that university departments should “look beyond publication in a peer-reviewed journal as the be all and end all of academic life.” This is likely to make academics gnash their teeth, as the last thing they want to do is scrabble to describe their research in some kind of media-friendly distortion of the truth. Reading the THE article, it seems that Mr Willetts is encouraging researchers to be innovative in the way they define ‘impact,’ but maybe that’s just me being cynical.
To balance that cynicism, it’s encouraging to note that Mr Willetts seems to be taking seriously the concerns of researchers across the board, referring to a recent report from Science is Vital (a campaign I’m closely involved with):
“Given the system cannot provide the number of senior academic positions desired by the pool of young researchers we have, should a long-term research career remain the automatic assumption for graduates entering PhD courses or postdoctoral positions? If not, how should we prepare them for life beyond academia?” he asked.
Mr Willetts certainly appears to be listening to researchers, and taking their concerns seriously. He also said that the European ban on embryonic stem cell patents would not adversely affect funding for such research in the UK. The THE article is worth reading in its entirety.