I shan’t tell you again…

Curious announcement from the AHRC today.

Devoted readers will recall that body’s Important Statement of 28 March, which rebuts a confused and confusing allegation made recently in an article in the Observer. The new statement focuses, rather oddly, on repeating the rebuttal in substantively the same terms as before.

Any humanities academic with experience of reading student drafts, particularly at PhD level, must have come across the problem of tactfully getting people to follow what’s known (or if it isn’t, it should be) as the Byrne Criterion: “Say something once – why say it again?” Words, in other words, are not to be wasted. Why is the Council telling us twice?

The answer appears to lie in a glide of topic (end of first para into beginning of second) from the reliably unreliable Observer piece, to the letter signed in the names of 188 academics – not all from the humanities – and published in that newspaper on 3 April (as released; and with the actual list of signatories, which the Obs stuffed up somewhat).

Is this conflation fair? (Clue to putative reader who needs everything explained twice: I’m about to argue that it isn’t. Pay attention!) The letter could hardly be clearer in its opening:

We were appalled that the Arts and Humanities Research Council intends to promote research on “the big society” as part of its current funding settlement [and here the Obs, as per usual editorial practice, inserted a reference to its story]. That the AHRC has apparently volunteered to do this is all the more craven.

You see that tharr second sentence? That’s a different claim from the erroneous one in the Obs of 28 March. Indeed, it contradicts it.

To the best of my knowledge, in fact, nobody has ever intentionally claimed that the AHRC is acting under direct duress. Pleasingly to me, though more by accident than by design, the blog you’re reading now hosts what seems to be the least-worst approximation to an unravelling of how the story came about (see here, here). The most vocal members of the concerned camp (see shovelfuls of links in my previous two postings) have also been the most scrupulous in pointing this out, before turning to the real problems. The real problems, what with being real and everything, are distinctly more subtle.

In sum:

We’re not getting worked up about this.

We’re getting worked up about this.

Which might also be an egregious misrepresentation of AHRC policy. But, as it’s an AHRC policy document, that’s also a wee bit suboptimal.



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