Impact, basic science and the Tinker Bell effect

Tinker Bell will die if you do not believe in her.

Tinker Bell will die if you do not believe in her. 

For scientists in the UK, it has become a reality that research proposals without identifiable ‘impact’ are unlikely to be funded.

This is understandable, but problematic. Because ‘impact’ is difficult to anticipate, and may take many years to become apparent.

I was reminded of this today when I received letter from the son of John Wilson, who died in October 2013.

He wrote to express his surprise that a paper by his father was listed as the most cited paper in Advances in Physics. He asked if this could really be possible?

The paper, written in 2006, was entitled:

The transition metal dichalcogenides: discussion and interpretation of the observed optical, electrical and structural properties

I am absolutely sure that when John co-authored this paper 10 years ago ‘impact’ – such as forming part of the foundation for hundreds of other papers – was the last thing on his mind: it never was.

Everything John did was driven by his fascination with materials and his personal curiosity.

 

Tinker Bell

Tinker Bell, you may recall, is a fairy. Yes, she is, and I believe in her. Do you believe in her boys and girls? Clap if you believe in her…. I knew you did.

Tinker Bell has given her name to the Tinkerbell effect which describes things that continue to exist only because people believe they do.

It applies not just to fairies, but to more critical and serious matters such as ‘the rule of law’.

And I think it applies to the value of basic science undertaken without any regard to impact. Once we stop believing in it, it will die.

And if it does die, then in my opinion, we will all be the poorer.

Boys and girls! Do you believe in basic science? Clap if you believe in basic science…. harder…harder…

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[July 16th 2016: Weight 73.8 kg: Anxiety: Medium]

 

 

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