I just got an email from our university's Press Office to say my work on how drivers' overtaking behaviour gets more dangerous when a cyclist wears a helmet was mentioned in a recent article on risk in The Economist. It's interesting how that project of mine has been viewed and used by different people. One of the main findings was that a behaviour intended to reduce risk (putting on a bicycle helmet) might paradoxically increase one's overall level of risk because drivers react to its presence by changing their behaviour. I've seen this finding used in many discussions -- some people find it a curious datum, others feel it backs up their own experiences, and some people loath my findings, usually because they are starting with the 'common sense' position that bicycle helmets must be a good thing.
But I've also seen that research used in broader contexts. Indeed I've seen it used in relatively extreme right-wing libertarian writing to justify an argument for having no state intervention in people's day-to-day behaviour. It just goes to show that when you do research and put your findings out into the world, you can never be sure exactly what's going to happen to them.
But for all that, I have to say that it's very satisfying that work of mine is being used by people. It's just a shame that any use of one's research by people who are not themselves professional researchers "doesn't count" under our government's Research Assessment Exercise. Academics writing in endless circles about one another's work is "good research"; a grand theory which excites everybody but then proves to be completely bogus after two years is "good research", as there will be lots of papers supporting it, then a second raft of papers slamming it, giving the high number of citations that research assessment focuses on to a large degree. But studies which excite the public, lead to media discussion or even change public behaviour for the better don't count as having had any impact at all -- our research is only "good" if other academics write about it. But we'll moan about that another day. It's far too sunny a Spring day for caviling now. I'm off to walk the dog instead.