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Haldane principle’s ‘centenary’ is a good time to bury its myth

Academic freedom needs stronger defences than a made-up principle, says David Edgerton.

For many years, experts have claimed the Haldane principle as a founding charter of British research policy. The principle’s origin is dated to the 1918 report of the Machinery of Government Committee, chaired by former lord chancellor Richard Haldane (pictured, left). The principle is supposed to state that, while governments may set research budgets, decisions on how the money is spent should be left to researchers.

And yet in 1962, Harry Melville, secretary of the main UK research council of the time, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), published a history of his department that did not mention the Haldane principle once. This was for the simple reason that it had not yet been invented.

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