Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Monbiot on scientific research

George Monbiot is a (mainly environmentalist) commentator who writes for The Guardian; he gets a lot of things wrong but I have to admit I quite like him since his heart is clearly in the right place. In this article he criticises the requirement for academics seeking grants to describe the economic impact of the proposed work. He also criticises the way business leaders are being put in charge of research councils.

Really, I'd say his attack is off-target --- it's not disastrous to have to describe economic impact of proposed research, so long as it is OK to be quite speculative. And I don't have a principled objection to business leaders running research councils -- with an outsider you get a sporting chance that the person concerned doesn't imagine he knows everything about science. The point he should be making is that we need to recognise that scientific progress is unpredictable, and you can't plan it that way you plan (say) a construction project. And also, "investing in research" is more analogous to premium bonds than it is to saving in an interest-bearing account.

No comments: