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It would be wrong to dismiss historians

"Society doesn't need a 20-year old who is a sixth century historian." This was the judgment of the Queen's University of Belfast vice-chancellor, Patrick Johnston, as reported in the Belfast Telegraph (News, May 30) under the heading, "Brain drain damaging Northern Ireland's economy, warns QUB chief".

Although I am simply a laboratory scientist, I feel I can appreciate other areas of academic endeavour. One assumes that, as for scientists, those researching any period of history aim to go about it with a detailed and evidence-based rigour that allows them to take care in making well-considered critical judgments. This is, surely, the fine quality that we expect in all of our graduates and leaders - regardless of the area of study.

Dismissing a key period in history that marked the zenith of Christian Byzantium is one thing; forgetting that Saint Columba, the patron saint of Derry, was born in Ireland and lived in the sixth century AD is surely another.

Who, then, should decide what our society needs?


Chair of Microbial Biochemistry, Queen's University, Belfast

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