Post-Modern Science: Academics ‘Regularly Lie To Get Research Grants’

  • Date: 09/03/16
  • David Matthews, Times Higher Education

Academics routinely lie and exaggerate when telling funding agencies what impact their research will have, a series of candid interviews with scholars in the UK and Australia has suggested.

Display of Pinocchio puppets on shop shelf

Their dismissive comments about the “charade” of impact statements brings to light what appears to be an open secret in academia – that academics simply do not take such projections seriously.

A new study anonymously interviewed 50 senior academics from two research-intensive universities – one in the UK and one in Australia – who had experience writing “pathways to impact” (PIS) statements, as they are called in the UK, and in some cases had also reviewed such statements.

It was normal to sensationalise and embellish impact claims, the study published in Studies in Higher Education found.

In the UK and Australia, academics are asked for evidence of what impact their research might have when applying for grants. Research Councils UK introduced the need to write a PIS in 2009.

Respondents said that future projections of impact were “charades” or “made-up stories”. As one UK professor put it: “would I believe it? No, would it help me get the money – yes.”

Academics felt pushed into lying on their impact statements by the logic of ferocious academic competition, the paper found.

“If you can find me a single academic who hasn’t had to bullshit or bluff or lie or embellish in order to get grants, then I will find you an academic who is in trouble with [their] head of department,” said one professor in Australia.

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