Nobel prizes as research assessment and dissemination

The Nobel committees for Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine do a great job on the whole. Major advances are identified annually, and outlined for anyone to see.

Assessment is done the only sensible way – by inviting nominations as the basis for a decision on importance, this being made by a small group of distinguished scientists actively involved in each subject. No metrics, proxies, nor impact statements. No publication counts, journal impact factors, grant income. Compare with UK REF, research “performance management”, and nonsensical league tables.

Dissemination takes the form of the motivation and background to the awards. These are are models for increased public understanding of new discoveries and their significance.

Streams here are pubic, and from Live Video Player, part of the excellent and informative Nobel Prize Web site; a resource also for the history of science since 1901.

Politics and the English Language

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: 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: Accessed September 2. 2014.

Use of words in misuse of power | John F. Allen’s blog

A comment on Academic Freedom and the Corporate University

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 – Telegraph


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.