The Impact tart, or iTart, is increasingly common in intellectual life. Let me give a couple of examples.

An air-headed ‘colleague’ flounces up to you and says, ‘Oh, this is wonderful!’

You offer a stunned and puzzled look.

‘I’ve just been invited’, he says, ‘to become a member of the Academy of the Social Sciences’.

‘You? How?’

‘Impact’, he says, ‘it’s all about impact. They’ve recognised the impact of my scintillating article in International Scoot!, “Riding as/with … the Baotian Monza 125cc Motor Scooter”’.

‘Really’, you say.

‘Oh, and one just needs to know someone who will nominate you’, he says.

Or you meet a somewhat flashy but shallow ‘colleague’ at a conference reception. After the obligatory and inane pleasantries, she flicks a blond curl out of her eyes and says, ‘I’ve just been made a professor’.

Again that pause as you desperately try to keep your jaw from plummeting to the ground.

‘Is that because of …?’ you say.

‘Oh yes’, she says, ‘the radio show, the newspaper column … Impact; it’s all about impact’.

Scholars, like lapdogs, have a knack of slavishly following the latest arbitrary directive from the powers that be. In the last little while a key element has been the ‘impact factor’ or ‘esteem factor’. Given that it is well-nigh impossible to peer into the crystal ball and determine who will be read and studied in a century or so from now, and given that scholars want to be stars today, if not yesterday, all manner of external signs of one’s ‘impact’ may now be listed.

Universities themselves offer the iTart fertile ground. At the appropriate section of one’s own university web-page (also the favoured ground for the Self-Seller), one may tick any or all of the following: a gong; cash prize; consultancy; election to an academy; honorary doctorate; expert media commentary; reality television show appearance; large ugly ring (signalling a habilitation); Swiss bank account, for aforesaid cash prize …

More and more journals make the iTart drool, for they claim to have a certain ‘impact factor’. Produced through an entirely ‘scientific’ process, the journal may claim an utterly meaningless number such as 3.2567 as its impact factor.

And more and more email messages end with an elaborate signature that reads like a mini-CV, full of titles, strange letters after one’s name, achievements, the latest book and so on. For instance, I recently came across the following:

Professor Richard (Dick) Whacker, DSO, FAHA, RIPA, JeRKR

The Steggles Chicken Professor of Circular Argumentation, Social Disharmony and Mystification

The Centre for Neo-Lysenkoist Studies

Editor of the Journal of Slander, Libel and Defamation

My most recent book is Running Free Range: Foul Holidays on the North Coast

Motto for old age: don’t waste an erection, don’t pass a toilet, NEVER trust a fart.

All of them are of course external signs, flashy baubles that desperately try to conceal the fact that there is little of actual substance to such impact. If you want to talk about real impact, grab a sledgehammer and smash up a bathroom.

(NB: the full ‘Typology of Scholars’ now has its own page. Items will be added from time to time.)

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