Link: Academics exaggerate scientific impact in their grant applications

1 minute read

In case you wonder why your grants aren’t being funded: “Lying to Get Grants”.

Academics routinely lie and exaggerate when telling funding agencies what impact their research will have, a series of candid interviews with scholars in Britain and Australia has suggested.
Their dismissive comments about the “charade” of impact statements brings to light what appears to be an open secret in academe -- that academics simply do not take such projections seriously.

The deeper issue raised here, and discussed by several of the academics quoted in the article, is the confusion about what impact actually is. Many scientists are very bad at conceptualizing the role of their research in the broader world of science. They may have a good intuitive idea of why their work relates to big questions, but little experience verbalizing that. As a result, they do not take very seriously the task of explaining the value of their work, either treating it as some kind of afterthought or making unrealistic claims:

Another respondent, a U.K. professor, described the whole process as “dishonest” because the idea of confidently predicting impact “flies in the face of scientific practice.”
Another professor in Australia said, “It’s really virtually impossible to write an [Australian Research Council] ARC grant now without lying.”

A true explanation of the scientific value of a project should look much more like good public communication. But good public communication is too often reviled by those who review grants, as insufficiently “scientific” in tone. It’s a catch-22.