IN DEFENCE OF RESEARCH FOR RESEARCH’S SAKE

Anyone concerned about innovation and the decline of Research as opposed to the rise in Development in R&D spending should read this provocative article on the Times Higher Education site defending ‘useless’ knowledge by Claire Fox of the Institute of Ideas.

In defending scholarship for its own sake, she eloquently argues against the fashion for “evidence-based” research which is increasingly forcing academia to deliver “advocacy research”, basically to endorse government policies. Her demand for the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake ends with the following call to arms:

It’s time to mount a battle of ideas – in academia and in the public sphere – to defend scholarship per se, and turn it into a beacon of human achievement and aspiration – freed from its subordination to pragmatic, immediate objectives. Let battle commence.

This same instrumentalism – the subordination to pragmatic, immediate objectives – is precisely the same dynamic we see in the sphere of innovation and business today: longer-term Research is being increasingly subordinated to a short-term pragmatic culture of exploiting existing knowledge to develop products or services that can be commercialised immediately. Anyone who shares concern about the implications of contemporary culture’s short-term pragmatism should read this article, and join the debate at a Battle of Ideas Satellite event Don and dusted: is the age of the scholar over? on Wednesday 7 October at the British Museum, London.

You should also attend this year’s Battle of Ideas Festival on the weekend of October 31/1 November 2009 where many sessions will touch upon this and related themes and many more. (I will also be participating in a keynote debate Rethinking Privacy in an age of Disclosure and Sharing with fellow panelists, Cory Doctorow, Peter Barron of Google, and journalist Anna Minton. More on this on this blog next week).

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