Saturday, September 25, 2004

Hooray for wonky research

In light of my comments on government-funded research and academic accountability in yesterday's Guardian interview, my good friend Daphne writes to say that the "annual slagging of SSHRC-funded research has reared its ugly head...the hunting season is declared open!"

Lobby group highlights 'wonky' projects (pay access only)

"The federal government handed out $86 million Thursday for a host of exotic university research projects, including studies on British carnal relations in the 18th century, intimacy between Ottawa escorts and their clients, hockey violence, cottage life and leisure walking. The projects also included a study on the cultural history of impotence and studies on 'shopping for pictures in early modern London,' the 'cassette revolution' in modern Egypt and 'understanding feelings of guilt in a retail purchase context'...

'Some day there will be a request for a study trying to find out how taxpayers put up with this kind of misuse of our tax dollars,' said John Williamson, the head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. 'The studies flunk the test of common sense in providing some kind of benefit to taxpayers, and they all seem to be kind of wonky'...

A spokeswoman for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) defended the grants, noting many projects in the list obviously be of benefit to society. 'Some of the titles are a bit misleading,' she said. 'Some of them may seem salacious, some of them may seem outrageous and some of them may seem obscure and esoteric. But the point is it reflects a broad range of interest, you're cultivating a broad range of interest and you're also cultivating research talents among the next generation of thinkers and researchers.' Dunne added that topics that appeared obscure in the past have recently become subject to unexpected attention."

By those "standards" I suspect my research would also be considered wonky. But, um, you'd think the SSHRC spokesperson could have come up with something a little better than that in our defense. Especially since we never hear a peep of complaint about the millions of dollars of research funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Sigh.


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