In academia, academic management, research on October 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm
This article came to my attention via several different sources.
I want to say from the outset I agree with a number of the author’s points, and clearly so do others given that its a report from a conference and also has been reposted in several places.
But here’s the open question: how should we evaluate non-traditional forms of impact? The easier task is to argue that a problem exists, the harder one is proposing alternatives. Take the case of blogging. Reader counts are attractively numeric (always good for a metric) but it doesn’t answer the question of who the people are? Nor does it address what forms of impact that reading the blog might be having? Is it enough that it’s a completely unknown but large group. Should that group have to *do* something based on the post? One thing that is rather nice about the traditional peer-review citation practices is that it’s concrete (we can compute the h-index if we chose), but we can also see the impact of our own work in that of others.
Perhaps we don’t want to reduce it to metrics. But I think the question that’s still on the table is what are these new forms of impact, where do we find evidence that something has happened? (And another set would be can everyone agree that this new form of impact is an appropriate form of impact — another open question, but without agreement I don’t think the form of impact will “stick”).
In academia, academic management on March 16, 2010 at 7:33 pm
The Royal Society is celebrating it’s 350th anniversary. To coincide with a series of exhibits about scientific advances in the past, the Royal Society is also taking the opportunity to reflect on the future of British Science. Here’s an excerpt from the report.
From Faraday to the iPod
Michael Faraday was a leading light of 19th century science. He began his career as secretary to Sir Humphry Davy, himself a formidable chemist and inventor. Faraday then joined the Royal Institution, where his experiments allowed him to elucidate the principles of electromagnetism and build the first dynamo. Explaining a discovery to then Chancellor of the Exchequer William Gladstone, Faraday was asked, ’But after all, what use is it?’ He famously, but perhaps apocryphally, replied, ’Why sir, there is every probability you will be able to tax it’.
Faraday’s ideas were taken forward by James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin and numerous others, including Albert Fert and Peter Grünberg. Fert and Grünberg received the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics for work on giant magnetoresistance, showing that tiny changes in magnetism can generate large changes in electrical resistance. Their 1988 discovery revolutionised the way that computers store information. The minuscule hard drives inside laptops and the earliest iPods would have been impossible without Faraday’s pioneering work more than 150 years earlier.
I’m not entirely against the narratives of impact that permeate the academy. We tell each other, we should strive for impact in our research, it’s more than the production of knowledge, it’s impact. But, I think Faraday provides a useful reminder: not everything that is discovered now will have its full impact in a short time frame. Perhaps impact should be treated like the history that it is, something that can not be assessed until sufficient time elapses. Early judgements likely to fall short and potentially be imbued with the personal orientations of those who make the assessments.