The essay focuses on political language, which, according to Orwell, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Orwell believed that the language used was necessarily vague or meaningless because it was intended to hide the truth rather than express it.
Wikipedia contributors. Politics and the English Language. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. July 25, 2014, 20:54 UTC. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Politics_and_the_English_Language&oldid=618464041. Accessed September 2, 2014.
The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.
George Orwell. Politics and the English Language. Wikilivres. Available at: http://wikilivres.ca/wiki/Politics_and_the_English_Language. Accessed September 2. 2014.
In my case, this question is no longer purely of academic interest. And what might “academic interest” actually now mean?
At the boundary of human knowledge, every new idea is a minority idea.
Academic freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
Is there a contrary view?
A comment on Academic Freedom and the Corporate University by John Holmwood, Jul 4, 2014.
Holmwood’s post refers to a recent blog post by David Browne, Senior Associate on the Employment Team for SGH Martineau, a legal firm whose clients include managers at the University of Warwick, famed for overseeing fair play and protecting academics’ right to dissent. To quote Holmwood, Browne “..argued that universities face the problem that ‘high performing’ academics can damage their ‘university’s brand’ by their ‘outspoken opinions or general insubordination’.” Browne’s post, “Getting your teeth stuck into High Performer Misconduct” compares foul play on a football pitch with expressing an opinion. Initially puzzled, I think I finally saw some vague similarity, and wrote the following comment on Jul 12.
If one football player bites another then the referee blows a whistle and calls “foul”. If, in consequence, the referee is disciplined, then he will find it difficult to do his job. If those who discipline him do so covertly, perhaps manipulating video evidence from which independent observers may decide on whether the bite took place, then we begin to see some sort of parallel with recent events in UK universities.
Truth is the primary and overriding concern of members of a university’s academic staff. To suspend or dismiss them on the grounds that their judgement does not find favour with administrators is to negate the reason for the university’s existence in the first place. Academic freedom is not an out-dated perk. No university worthy of the name attempts to prescribe lines of enquiry, nor conclusions reached, in research, teaching and scholarship.
To quote from one institution’s Ordinances:
“Where there is any issue as to the meaning of ‘academic freedom’ in any proceedings under these Ordinances, regard shall be had to Sections VI and VII of the Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel adopted by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in Paris on 11 November 1997.”
I’ve recently had cause to consult the UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel of 1997.
I recommend it.
The academic, as the referee, must retain the freedom to do what he is paid for.
Otherwise, what do universities actually do?
And what is it that their managers actually manage?
Nobel winners say scientific discovery ‘virtually impossible’ due to funding bureaucracy
Major scientific discovery is being hindered because of the peer preview system, Nobel Prize winning scientists have warned
10:30PM BST 02 Jun 2014
Major scientific discoveries of the 20th Century would not have happened under today’s funding rules, Nobel Prize winning scientists have warned.
More than 30 leading scientists including four Nobel Laureates have written to The Telegraph deploring the current system of granting funding for scientific research.
They said that: “Sustained open-ended enquiries in controversial or unfashionable fields are virtually forbidden today and science is in serious danger of stagnating.”
Lead signatory Prof Donald Braben, professor of earth sciences at University College London, had published a book on how difficult it has become in the last 30 years to get research funded.
He warned that all the major funding institutions now use a system of peer preview in which anonymous members in the same field consider the proposal and decide if it should go ahead.
Prof Braben said: “The major scientific discoveries of the 20th Century would not have happened under today’s rules, they would not get funding now.
“It is very difficult to get a discussion together on this matter because everyone has to acquiesce.”
His book documents the 500 major discoveries of the 20th Century.
He says that Max Planck would not have made his quantum mechanics discoveries and Peter Mitchell would not have discovered the energy currency in biology had they been put through today’s funding rules.
The letter continued: “Peer preview is now virtually unavoidable and its bureaucratic, protracted procedures are repeated for every change in direction or new phase of experimentation or whatever the applicant might subsequently propose.
“Many scientists privately deplore these policies but their professional standing often depends on their acquiescence.”
Prof Braben’s book ‘Promoting the Planck Club: How defiant youth, irreverent researchers and liberated universities can foster prosperity indefinitely, is published by Wiley.
Co-signatories on the letter include: John F Allen, Queen Mary, University of London; William Amos, University of Cambridge; Richard Ball, University of Edinburgh; Tim Birkhead FRS, University of Sheffield; Peter Cameron, Queen Mary, University of London; Richard Cogdell FRS, University of Glasgow; and David Colquhoun University College London.
As well as Nobel Laureates, John Hall, University of Colorado; Dudley Herschbach, Harvard University; Sir Harry Kroto, Florida State University, and Sir Richard J Roberts FRS, New England Biolabs.
The damaging bureaucracy of academic peer preview
Academic funding agencies should support research in unfashionable fields
Peer preview is now virtually unavoidable and its bureaucratic, protracted procedures are repeated for every change in direction or new phase of experimentation or for whatever an applicant might subsequently propose. Consequently, support for research that might lead to major new scientific discoveries is virtually forbidden nowadays, and science is in serious danger of stagnating. Many scientists privately deplore these policies but their professional standing often depends on their acquiescence – a catch-22 that effectively diminishes public opposition to the policies. We call upon funding agencies to support sustained, open-ended research in unfashionable fields.
Donald W Braben
University College London
John F Allen
Queen Mary, University of London
University of Cambridge
University of Edinburgh
FRS, University of Sheffield
Queen Mary, University of London
Richard Cogdell FRS
University of Glasgow;
David Colquhoun FRS
University College London;
Industry Forum, London
United States Naval Academy, Annapolis;
University of Notre Dame
University of Colorado, Nobel Laureate
University of Leicester
Harvard University, Nobel Laureate
H Jeff Kimble
Caltech, US National Academy of Sciences
Sir Harry Kroto FRS
Florida State University, Nobel Laureate
University of Bristol
Peter Lawrence FRS
University of Cambridge
Angus MacIntyre FRS
Queen Mary, University of London
John Mattick FAA
Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney
University of Reading
University of Missouri
Bio Astral Limited
Sir Richard J Roberts FRS
New England Biolabs, Nobel Laureate
Queen’s University of Belfast
University of Newcastle
University of Texas, US National Academy of Sciences;
Claudio Vita-Finzi FBA
Natural History Museum
It was a privilege and a pleasure to attend Ursula Mittwoch’s birthday reception in the Housman Room at UCL on 18 March 2014.
Ursula’s contributions to genetics underly what we know and are even inclined, perhaps, to take for granted today.
Interview by Peter Harper on 2 March 2004
From reading such authors as J. B. S. Haldane and C. D. Darlington, I’d long known the famous names mentioned by Ursula in her interview with Peter Harper. Those personal heroes knew Ursula and her work. The name Mittwoch came up for me many times in subsequent years. I first met Ursula in 2013, whilst on sabbatical at UCL, where Fiona Williamson kindly introduced us. Fiona and Nick Lane knew of our common interests and drew my attention to one recent publication.
Mittwoch, U. (2013) Sex determination. EMBO Reports 14, 588-592. DOI: 10.1038/embor.2013.84
Ursula’s memorable reception speech contained one piece of advice. It is surely a perennial key to scientific success.
Be kind to colleagues…
Happy birthday, Ursula!
Left to right: John Allen, Sue Povey, Ursula Mittwoch, Dallas Swallow, Nick Lane. Photo by Fiona Williamson