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    Hitting the QR sweet spot: will new REF2021 rules lead to a different kind of game-playing?

Hitting the QR sweet spot: will new REF2021 rules lead to a different kind of game-playing?

Today marks 999 days until the expected deadline for submissions to REF 2021. Universities’ preparations are already well under way, with additional guidance published last autumn in the form of new REF rules designed to reduce game-playing behaviours among institutions. However, as Simon Kerridge observes, the rule changes may have introduced, or rather enhanced, some hidden dangers around universities’ […]

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    False investigators and coercive citation are widespread in academic research

False investigators and coercive citation are widespread in academic research

A recent study has revealed widespread unethical behaviour in academic research. Allen Wilhite focuses on two activities in particular; the addition to funding proposals of investigators not expected to contribute to the research, and editors who coerce authors to add citations to manuscripts even though those citations were not part of the scholars’ reference material. Research institutions, funders, rankings bodies, and […]

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    The RAE/REF have engendered evaluation selectivity and strategic behaviour, reinforced scientific norms, and further stratified UK higher education

The RAE/REF have engendered evaluation selectivity and strategic behaviour, reinforced scientific norms, and further stratified UK higher education

The UK’s periodic research assessment exercise has grown larger and more formalised since its first iteration in 1986. Marcelo Marques, Justin J.W. Powell, Mike Zapp and Gert Biesta have examined what effects it has had on the submitting behaviour of institutions, considering the intended and unintended consequences in the field of education research. Findings reveal growing strategic behaviour, including […]

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    Adoption of open access is rising – but so too are its costs

Adoption of open access is rising – but so too are its costs

Options available to authors to make their work open access are on the rise. Adoption of open access itself is also rising, and usage of open-access materials is similarly increasing. However, alongside rising access levels another, less positive rise can also be observed: the costs of open access are increasing and at a rate considerably above inflation. Stephen Pinfield […]

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    Why has no other European country adopted the Research Excellence Framework?

Why has no other European country adopted the Research Excellence Framework?

Most European countries have followed the UK’s lead in developing performance-based research funding systems (PRFS) for their universities. However, what these countries have not done is adopt the same system, the Research Excellence Framework being its most recent iteration. Instead, many use indicators of institutional performance for funding decisions rather than panel evaluation and peer review. Gunnar Sivertsen has […]

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    How to survive the cruel world of peer-reviewed funding applications

How to survive the cruel world of peer-reviewed funding applications

With government funding and industry support for research either static or falling, the grant funding environment has become increasingly competitive. Most funding goes to those in secure employment who have been in academia for some time, making the outlook particularly grim for early-career researchers. Jonathan O’Donnell sets out some practical advice for early-career researchers competing for grant funding; starting […]

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    The Global Challenges Research Fund: £1.5bn commitment is impressive in its ambition but would benefit from a tighter strategic focus

The Global Challenges Research Fund: £1.5bn commitment is impressive in its ambition but would benefit from a tighter strategic focus

The Global Challenges Research Fund aims to ensure UK research plays a leading role in addressing problems faced by developing countries. To Tina Fahm of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, the fund represents a welcome increase in the UK’s ambition in development research, drawing on well-established mechanisms for identifying research excellence and promoting interdisciplinary work on complex development […]

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    Barriers to research collaboration: are social scientists constrained by their desire for autonomy?

Barriers to research collaboration: are social scientists constrained by their desire for autonomy?

Researchers everywhere are being pushed to collaborate. Individual academics are being urged to join teams, small teams are encouraged to merge with others to become bigger teams, and institution-wide and inter-institutional collaborations are spreading. With potential benefits including increased chances of funding, visibility, and impact, why, asks Jenny M. Lewis, are social scientists not embracing collaboration more? Might it […]

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    Government policies favouring research for economic returns can overlook existing strengths in arts and humanities

Government policies favouring research for economic returns can overlook existing strengths in arts and humanities

There is an argument that the best way for governments to allocate resources for research is to prioritise those areas most likely to deliver economic returns. Andrew Gibson and Ellen Hazelkorn explain how, shortly after its Great Recession, Ireland prioritised research fields aligned with industrial sectors rather than disciplinary excellence or societal challenges. By starting with an orientation toward […]

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    Peer review processes risk stifling creativity and limiting opportunities for game-changing scientific discoveries

Peer review processes risk stifling creativity and limiting opportunities for game-changing scientific discoveries

Today, academics must prepare written proposals describing the research they wish to conduct and submit them to funding agencies for evaluation – a process known as peer review. According to Don Braben and Rod Dowler, the current peer review process actually serves as a blocker to more radical research, stifling creativity and limiting opportunities for game-changing discoveries. Obviously peer review should not be abandoned entirely, but […]

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    Research funding is a gamble so let’s give out money by lottery

Research funding is a gamble so let’s give out money by lottery

Under the current system of research funding, expert reviewers take time to identify the best work and allocate grant money accordingly. But as applications increase and success rates fall, this often means more adventurous proposals are not funded. Moreover, evidence shows peer review assessments are biased, with women and minorities less likely to secure grants. Wouldn’t it be better, asks Shahar Avin, […]

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    Increasing REF’s impact weighting could offer incentive for institutions to address societal, economic and global challenges

Increasing REF’s impact weighting could offer incentive for institutions to address societal, economic and global challenges

Challenges posed by events such as Brexit highlight the importance of excellent research programmes. Moreover, they represent a broader context in which the next Research Excellence Framework must consider ‘impact’. But do current REF proposals go far enough towards doing this? Matthew Guest argues that there is not enough of an incentive for institutions to address heightened societal, economic […]

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    Think tanks, evidence and policy: democratic players or clandestine lobbyists?

Think tanks, evidence and policy: democratic players or clandestine lobbyists?

Depending on your perspective, think tanks either enrich the democratic space by conducting policy research and facilitating public dialogue and debate, or undermine democracy by pushing policies favoured by powerful corporate interests. Till Bruckner explains how Transparify are contributing to debate about think tanks’ role in evidence-based policymaking by assessing their levels of financial transparency. The Transparify report, released […]

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    The university challenge: what would an Intelligent Brexit look like?

The university challenge: what would an Intelligent Brexit look like?

The EU brought invaluable networks for research and collaboration to the UK. More than that, it fostered a shared democratic culture of openness and tolerance. But these links will have to change as Britain pursues a hard Brexit. Time is short, write Anne Corbett and Claire Gordon, and universities need to make the case for an ‘Intelligent Brexit’ that will […]

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    UK research can tackle global challenges but only if we heed lessons on research impact

UK research can tackle global challenges but only if we heed lessons on research impact

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK government to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries. As the GCRF looks to fund interdisciplinary research and maximize its impact, James Georgalakis reflects on what can be learned from previous examples of successful evidence-based policymaking; from the importance of […]

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Why are interdisciplinary research proposals less likely to be funded? Lack of adequate peer review may be a factor.

Recent findings suggest interdisciplinary research is less likely to be funded than discipline-based research proposals. Gabriele Bammer looks at how interdisciplinary research is currently peer reviewed and argues different review processes may well be required to do justice to these different kinds of interdisciplinarity. Discipline-based researchers may be ill-equipped to evaluate the integrative processes that an interdisciplinary proposal plans to […]

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    Social science at the crossroads: the history of political science in the USA and the evolution of social impact.

Social science at the crossroads: the history of political science in the USA and the evolution of social impact.

What role should social scientists play in society? Louisa Hotson explores the evolution of the social sciences through four periods in the history of political science, each with different implications for how social science makes a difference. These lessons from history encourage us to think more broadly than we have in recent decades about how we define the ‘impact’ of the social […]

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    Ideas boom or innovation bust? Could Australia’s ‘ideas agenda’ stifle real innovation?

Ideas boom or innovation bust? Could Australia’s ‘ideas agenda’ stifle real innovation?

Australia’s so-called ‘ideas boom’ comes at a cost to research funding and sustainable infrastructure, Kanishka Jayasuriya and Carol Johnson write. An emphasis on entrepreneurial culture at the expense of wider public research investment risks socialising the risks of research and privatising the benefits, which ultimately may do lasting harm to both sectors.

Innovation is a central part of Australian Prime Minister […]

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    What makes research excellent? Digging into the measures aimed at quantifying and promoting research excellence.

What makes research excellent? Digging into the measures aimed at quantifying and promoting research excellence.

“Research excellence” is a tricky concept in theory and arguably trickier to capture in practice. Toni Pustovrh shares findings from a recent study which looks at how research is currently quantified and evaluated in Slovenia. In-depth interviews with scientists reveal a variety of views on the concept and the current mechanisms in place. The analysis suggests that neither a predominantly peer-review based […]

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    Fundable, but not funded: How can research funders ensure ‘unlucky’ applications are handled more appropriately?

Fundable, but not funded: How can research funders ensure ‘unlucky’ applications are handled more appropriately?

Having a funding application rejected does not necessarily mean the research is unsupportable by funders – maybe just unlucky. There is a significant risk to wider society in the rejection of unlucky but otherwise sound applications: good ideas may slip through the cracks, or be re-worked and dulled-down to sound more likely to provide reliable results. Oli Preston looks at […]

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