A perverted view of "impact"

I think the emphasis on impact in UK research can be counterproductive. Jeremy Gibbons alerted me to this op-ed by Marc Kirschner in Science, pointing out that the situation is even more severe in the US biomedical community, where the search for "impact" leads to focus on human medicine, to the detriment of fundamental studies.
One may be able to recognize good science as it happens, but significant science can only be viewed in the rearview mirror. To pretend otherwise distorts science. DNA restriction enzymes, once the province of obscure microbiological investigation, ultimately enabled the entire recombinant DNA revolution. Measurement of the ratios of heavy and light isotopes of oxygen, once a limited area of geochemistry, eventually allowed the interpretation of prior climate change. What is now promoted as high-impact science is usually a narrow extension of existing experimental designs in a program focused on a set of feasible goals. Fuzzy new directions that might fail, but could open up major new questions, are often dismissed as too speculative and considered low-impact. And in biomedical science, there is an increasing tendency to equate significance to any form of medical relevance. This causes biochemical investigations and research on nonmammalian systems to be treated as intrinsically less valuable than studies on human cells. As a result, biomedicine is losing the historically productive cross-fertilization between model systems and human biology.

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