Richard West: happy to have worked in a less competitive and bureaucratic period

Richard West comments on the negative effect on science of increased competition, research assessment exercises and funding arrangements in the latter part of his career.

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I think I’ve been very lucky to have been in the university life in the time I did. Er, several changes have taken place. In the first part of my career one could really get on with research and teaching and there was – one wasn’t looking over one’s back to see who was assessing one’s research. One wasn’t spending enormous amounts of time filling in grant applications. And there were not so many committees organising science as there are now. Also at the beginning, there was far less competition between people and you could talk quite openly about what you were doing with other people and colleagues, and you would all help each other. The situation seems to have changed and people are not so willing to share information or to talk in the open about what they’re doing and I think it’s a result of the shortage of money and competition – result of competition for doing things. And I think it’s really very unhealthy for science to have that attitude. If you can’t talk to people about what you’re doing then you’re really – I think that’s really bad. But I think it’s an inevitable result about the – the way in which science is organised now with grant giving bodies, with so called research assessment reviews, which are based on measurement of output. I think – when this first came to my attention when I was, I think I mentioned this before, I was on the Council of Scientific Policy, when ministers were asking: how can you pinpoint developments and make discoveries in an orderly way and where should you put the money?  When really most discoveries of science of use are based on some personal achievement, not related to economic conditions or anything like that. And things have progressed in that way that now really the direction of science is governed by grant giving bodies and anybody who has a stray idea which they want to try out and might – it might be very interesting, they won’t necessarily get a look in to support. Research assessment by ticking boxes and measuring number of papers only results in a lot of papers being published more than once.

  • Interviewee Richard West
  • Duration 00:03:30
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 3/21/2011
  • Shelfmark C1379/34
  • Keywords

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