Thursday, July 09, 2009

Letter to the Times Higher

Here is the full text of my letter in this week's THE:


I am dismayed by the poor quality of journalism shown in the article Sandpits bring out worst in infantilised researchers. Of the two academics quoted the first, Professor Docherty, hasn't been to a sandpit; a second, unnamed, researcher apparently hadn't either, instead reporting what some bloke had said to him at a conference. Come on THE, you can do better than this. It can't be that hard to find one or two participants prepared to offer opinions on the record, from the 25 sandpits so far. The piece is depressing also in its use of the pejorative trope 'reality-TV' without justifying it. I recall nothing even vaguely reality-TV-like about the sandpit I attended. And micromanaged? Yes the the week was skilfully managed – but how else can you go from 30 more or less complete strangers to coherent project teams and amazing proposals in 5 days? In fact there was a significant level of self-organisation going on within the sandpit framework. And what on earth is wrong with the word sandpit? The key to creativity is working with people outside your own discipline, outside your intellectual comfort zone; the analogy with play and exploration is apt. To be brought together with 30 very, very smart people and asked to think about big research questions is exhilarating, not infantilising.

Yours faithfully

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