Broader Impacts and Intellectual Merit: Paradigm Shift? | NOT UNTIL YOU CITE US!

On the one hand, this post on the VCU website is very cool.  It contains some interesting observations and what I think is some good advice for researchers submitting and reviewing NSF proposals.

Broader Impacts and Intellectual Merit: Paradigm Shift? | CHS Sponsored Programs.

On the other hand, this post also illustrates how researchers’ broader impacts go unnoticed.

One of my main areas of research is peer review at S&T funding agencies, such as NSF. I especially focus on the incorporation of societal impact criteria, such as NSF’s Broader Impacts Merit Review Criterion. In fact, I published the first scholarly article on broader impacts in 2005. My colleagues at CSID and I have published more than anyone else on this topic. Most of our research was sponsored by NSF.

I don’t just perform research on broader impacts, though. I take the idea that scholarly research should have some impact on the world seriously, and I try to put it into practice. One of the things I try to do is reach out to scientists, engineers, and research development professionals in an effort to help them improve the attention to broader impacts in the proposals they are working to submit to NSF. This past May, for instance, I traveled down to Austin to give a presentation at the National Organization for Research Development Professionals Conference (NORDP 2013). You can see a PDF version of my presentation at figshare.

If you look at the slides, you may recognize a point I made in a previous post, today. That point is that ‘intellectual merit’ and ‘broader impact’ are simply different perspectives on research. I made this point at NORDP 2013, as well, as you can see from my slides. Notice how they put the point on the VCU site:

Broader Impacts are just another aspect of their research that needs to be communicated (as opposed to an additional thing that must be “tacked on”).

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Or perhaps I could. Or perhaps I did. At NORDP 2013.

Again, VCU says:

Presenters at both conferences [they refer to something called NCURA, with that hyperlink, and to NORDP, with no hyperlink] have encouraged faculty to take the new and improved criteria seriously, citing that Broader Impacts are designed to answer accountability demands.  If Broader Impacts are not carefully communicated so that they are clear to all (even non-scientific types!), a door could be opened for more prescriptive national research priorities in the future—a move that would limit what types of projects can receive federal funding, and would ultimately inhibit basic research.

Unless someone else is starting to sound a lot like us, THIS IS OUR MESSAGE!

My point is not to claim ownership over these ideas. If I were worried about intellectual property, I could trademark a broader impacts catch phrase or something. My point is that if researchers don’t get any credit for the broader impacts of their research, they’ll be disinclined to engage in activities that might have broader impacts. I’m happy to share these ideas. How else could I expect to have a broader impact? I’ll continue to share them, even without attribution. That’s part of the code.

To clarify: I’m not mad. In fact, I’m happy to see these ideas on the VCU site (or elsewhere …). But would it kill them to add a hyperlink or two? Or a name? Or something? I’d be really impressed if they added a link to this post.

I’m also claiming this as evidence of the broader impacts of my research. I don’t have to contact any lawyers for that, do I?

UPDATE: BRIGITTE PFISTER, AUTHOR OF THE POST TO WHICH I DIRECTED MY DIATRIBE, ABOVE, HAS RESPONDED HERE. I APPRECIATE THAT A LOT. I ALSO LEFT A COMMENT APOLOGIZING FOR MY TONE IN THE ABOVE POST. IT’S AWAITING MODERATION; BUT I HOPE IT’S ACCEPTED AS IT’S MEANT — AS AN APOLOGY AND AS A SIGN OF RESPECT.

2 thoughts on “Broader Impacts and Intellectual Merit: Paradigm Shift? | NOT UNTIL YOU CITE US!

  1. I posted this comment on my site too, but wanted to make sure you saw it:
    Apology accepted. I’m actually glad this happened. I think this is an important conversation; this whole exchange demonstrates the key points in a practical way (is that more broader impact I hear?).

    I think you’d be interested in a recent initiative through VCU libraries called Digital Pragmata (http://wp.vcu.edu/digitalpragmata/). So far there have been three panel discussions (http://www.library.vcu.edu/events/pragmata/) on research in the digital realm. Though its focus is on arts and humanities, there have been some broader discussions about how digital media fits (or doesn’t!) into traditional scholarship. I think it’s undeniable that digital formats have a much farther reach than traditional publications these days. Does that mean there is more potential for “NSF-style” broader impacts?

    I think you might have something to add to a future panel discussion. Your perspective would be different from what we’ve heard before, and could bring some of our more “traditional” faculty into the discussion. I’d love to see partnerships between arts, humanities and STEM disciplines, for example, where the digital movers and shakers in arts and humanities help get the word out to the rest of the world about what’s happening in the lab.. maybe in a new (and really cool!) way. I think that could take the broader impact of research to another level. Take a look. If you’re interested, I’ll be glad to introduce you to the nice people at VCU Libraries.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s