Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

To Serve the Public

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

To Serve the Public

Article excerpt

Jonathan Shepherd makes a number of strong points in his article calling for joined-up thinking in research for public services ("Appliance of social science", 3 January), but he also commits a massive error based on the assumption that there is only one rigorous way to do research. He is entirely right in asking research councils to fund more applied work (although he may find that they are already well down that road) and in asking for researchers to find ways of making their work relevant to the improvement of public services as well as to be relevant to the private sector's needs.

However, he then falls into a trap that many clinicians seem inexorably drawn to. He notes that "rigorous research" is needed in evidence production for public services but seems to think that this can happen only through "essential real-world experiments" that "many social scientists" are reluctant to carry out because of "an inability to design and manage field trials, illusory concerns about supposedly insurmountable ethical barriers or misguided scepticism about the objective value of the experimental methods pioneered in agriculture and medicine". …

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