A Note to the Physics REF Panel

I’ve just been skimming through an interesting report about the strength of UK physics research. One of the conclusions of said document is that UK physics research is the best in the world in terms of quality.

I couldn’t resist a brief post to point this out to any members of the Physics panel involved in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. My motivation for doing this is that the Physics panel of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise evidently came to the conclusion that UK physics research wasn’t very good at all, awarding a very much lower fraction of 4* (world-leading) grades than many other disciplines, including chemistry. I’ve never understood why the Panel arrived at such a low opinion of its own discipline, but there you go..

Physics departments across the country have fought very hard to recover from the financial and reputational damage inflicted by the 2008 RAE panel’s judgement. Let’s just hope there isn’t another unwarranted slap in the face in store when the 2014 results are announced later this year…

 

UPDATE: I’m grateful to Paul Crowther for pointing out a surprising fact based on a talk given by the Chairman of the Physics RAE Panel in 2008, Sir John Pendry. Here are the slides in full, but the pertinent fact is the distribution of 4*, 3* and 2* grades across disciplines shown in this table:

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You can see that they are in fact broadly, similar across disciplines. However, what is clear is that the highest scoring departments in Chemistry did much better than the highest-scoring in Physics; for example top of the table for Physics was Lancaster with 25% of its outputs graded 4* while top in Chemistry was Cambridge with 40%. Is it really justifiable that the top physics departments were so much worse than the top chemistry departments? Suspicion remains that the Physics scores were downgraded systematically to produce the uncannily similar profiles shown in the table. Since all the RAE documents have been shredded, we’ll never know whether that happened or not…

4 Responses to “A Note to the Physics REF Panel”

  1. “UK physics research is the best in the world in terms of quality”

    ” UK physics research wasn’t very good at all, awarding a very much lower fraction of 4* (world-leading) grades than many other disciplines, including chemistry”

    Of course, logically, there is not necessarily a conflict here, though that would imply that all research outside the UK is very bad indeed.

  2. The UK’s performance in physics research: National and internatinoal perspectives

    From which I conclude that UK spelling is not very good. 🙂

  3. The “best” is based on impact. 😦 Impact is based on bibliometry. 😦 And it is only best among the 10 most productive nations. There are small countries who have a relatively small total output, but high output per capita.

    Surely any serious discussion of this topic would not talk about numbers and fractions of papers in an absolute sense, but would convert it to a per capita measure.

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