The attack was written by Ananyo Bhattacharya, who is the chief online editor for Nature and, funnily enough, a former PhD student of mine. We’re still good friends, by the way! The argument revolves largely around the impact of the impact agenda that the research councils have rolled out, presumably in response to demands from their — and our — political masters.
Ananyo was passionate in his contention that the pendulum has swung too far, that scientists have lost the sense of the deep worth of blue-skies research. Imran and I are circumspect about that. For sure, the impact agenda has perturbed the system. But in a democratic society, we argue that it is reasonable for scientists to take some account of political realities.
I’m unsure as yet how much clarification of the deeper issues has been made here. Our critique has already been criticised. I’m confident there is more common ground than a speed-reading of the two articles would suggest. Maybe this is just another one of those regular eruptions of the tension between public policy and the intrinsic values of science. I don’t know. But if there is a resolution to this debate, I would dearly like to find it.