Darwin and the Sandwalk: performance-based research

One thing that Darwin didn’t have to contend with, being independently wealthy, was research income. In New Zealand we are going into the last phase of the current cycle where every few years all scientists are assessed. Through this assessment research funding is apportioned to our research institutions from the government. Ours is call the Performance-based Research Fund (PBRF) and many countries now have something similar. This takes up a lot of time without a lot of obvious reward (there are many simple indices of research that give about the same division of spoils to our various institutions). I can’t help but think that Darwin would have been a disaster in this system. He mainly published books (which are virtually worthless in PBRF science) and few papers. They were also spread over many years. He didn’t chair committees or do a lot else for other scientists. He didn’t bring in lots of external research funding, supervise students, or mentor postdocs. A PBRF environment back then certainly wouldn’t have encouraged him to write the Origin! Also, Darwin’s correspondence, which would count for absolutely nothing now, is studied in minute detail now. Maybe I should be keeping all of my emails and texts!

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