Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Curiouser and Curiouser said Doctor Alice

One of my postgrad students pointed me in the direction of this excellent column by David Mitchell, responding to the announcement of a panel in the UK that will determine whether to fund research based on economic viability etc.

On the surface of it, it sounds like a reasonable proposition to financially support work that shows evidence of a future return of some kind.

However, if you understand the academic business, you know this isn't always how it works. The best research often develops from silly propositions, accidents, mistakes and so forth. The push to have research ends articulated before the research takes place is not necessarily wise. We research so we can find out where the ideas will take us - not so that we can meet a pre-determined objective.

Writes Mitchell: "What separates us from the beasts, apart from fire, laughter, depression and guilt about killing the odd beast, is our curiosity. We've advanced as a species because we've wanted to find things out, regardless of whether we thought it useful."

Alice would understand.

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