Letter: The bureaucratisation of research

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The Independent Online
Sir: How true is much of what Lincoln Allison writes ('No marks for free-thinking', 6 April). What he says about the 'bureaucratisation of intellectual activity' applies to the natural sciences as well as the humanities and social sciences, and to research institutes as well as universities.

In this context, there are two fallacies current today. First, the idea that committees of the great and the good can judge what unknowns should be explored. Many of the members of such committees are likely to think first of the out-of-date ideas that were new when they were active researchers some years ago, and, in any case, how is it possible to decide what original discovery shall be made? The second fallacy is that commissioning someone to carry out a study and then spending time and money monitoring his success at frequent intervals is a cost-efficient method of buying basic or strategic research.

A much better return for money is obtained by identifying a creative individual and then paying him to do what he judges will be profitable. A few of those so employed will yield little in return, but most will be productive in quite new, and thus very important and valuable, findings or ideas. The researcher can get on with his real task and not waste his time in grant- or contract-winning procedures and in writing progress reports, and no large army of bureaucrats is needed to appraise the researchers, assess their projects and audit their expenditures.

Yours faithfully,

E. D. Le CREN

Appleby, Cumbria

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