THE Scholarly Web - 19 September 2013

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

September 19, 2013

Academics are understandably hostile towards anyone who would stymie academic freedom, but you know a storm of protest is likely to ensue if an institution asks someone to remove a blog post because of “national security issues”.

That was the reason given by Johns Hopkins University officials when asking cryptographer and research professor Matthew Green, who works in the aptly named Security and Privacy Applied Research Lab, to take down a post titled “On the NSA” from his A Few Thoughts on Cryptographic Engineering blog.

The post, more than 2,000 words in length, offered another comment on the recent revelations of National Security Agency surveillance that have rocked the US and the UK.

After posting the article, Professor Green tweeted that he had “received a request from my Dean” to remove “all copies of [the] blog post from university servers”. Naturally, this caused outrage on Twitter. “Keeping it classy, academia,” Scott Francis (@darkuncle) sarcastically commented, while Steven Bellovin (@SteveBellovin), a professor in the computer science department at Columbia University, asked “what part of ‘academic freedom’ does the dean not understand?”

According to an Inside Higher Ed article, Dennis O’Shea, a Johns Hopkins spokesman, said the university had received information that the blog “contained a link or links to classified material and also used the NSA logo”.

He added: “For that reason, we asked Professor Green to remove the Johns Hopkins-hosted mirror site for his blog. Upon further review, we note that the NSA logo has been removed and that he appears to link to material that has been published in the news media. Interim dean Andrew Douglas has informed Professor Green that the mirror site may be restored.”

Professor Green later tweeted: “I just received a very kind formal apology from the Interim Dean of JHU Whiting School of Engineering.” Mr O’Shea confirmed to Inside Higher Ed that “we did not receive any inquiry from the federal government about the blog or any request from the government to take down the mirror site”.

Academic freedom 1, Authority 0.

Also on the theme of academic freedom, the ramifications of Tony Abbott’s recent general election victory for humanities research funding in Australia have been worrying a few people. Times Higher Education reported that his administration would carry out an audit of what it calls “increasingly ridiculous research grants” funded by the Australian Research Council.

Kevin Thow (@KevinThow), an undergraduate at Sydney’s Macquarie University, wryly asked if it was “good timing to move to the UK for my postgrad?” James Arvanitakis (@jarvanitakis), professor in the humanities at the University of Western Sydney, was biting in his assessment. “A PM for all the people,” he wrote. “Except humanities researchers.” But what is likely to chill many is an assessment from Christopher Hobson (@hobson_c), assistant professor in the School of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University in Japan, who tweeted that this was just “one of many issues to be concerned about”.

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