“Lady Bottomley has got it smack on.”
That was the enthusiastic response of our vice-chancellor to the recent prediction by Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone, who chairs the board of the global executive headhunting firm Odgers Berndtson, that people from the world of business will increasingly be required as university leaders.
Our vice-chancellor, who before accepting the Poppleton post enjoyed a distinguished business career with JJB Sports, Woolworths, Enron and the Ponzi Securities Exchange Company, also praised Lady Bottomley for her astute recognition that only leaders with business experience are, in her words, “very comfortable with massive sums of money”. It was, said our vice-chancellor, this very attribute that currently allowed him to feel so much at home with his present salary.
Many of our academic readers have inquisitive little children who’d like to know how a university really works. So we’re introducing a brand-new feature called “Kiddies’ Corner”, in which a well-known don writing under the pseudonym “Uncle Quentin” answers questions posed by youngsters. Our first query comes from six-year-old Albert of Middle Poppleton.
My daddy who is a lecturer at your university keeps talking all the time about “peer review”. What does he mean, Uncle Quentin?
A jolly good question, little Albert. Let me explain. One way to tell whether university people are proper academics or only teachers is by having special bodies called REF panels that look at the articles written in journals by people like your daddy and decide whether they’re good or bad.
Could I see those journals?
Oh yes. You could see them in that big empty building called the library or see them online on your computer.
But how do those REF people know whether the articles are good or bad?
That’s exactly where peer review comes in. Proper journals send the articles to people who work in the same area and they give their expert opinion of their value and say whether they should be published.
Do they ever ever get it wrong?
Well, there was one recent case in which a naughty biologist sent details of some made-up research into how lichen could cure cancer to 304 online journals that all used peer review.
And they all realised it was makey-uppy?
Not quite, Albert. Of the journals, 157, including 10 from Britain, accepted the article for publication.
Why were they so stupid?
Well, Albert, some cynical people – do you know that word? – some cynical people say that as you have to pay to have your article published online, the people who run the journals have – more difficult words – have a vested interest in publishing anything at all, no matter how silly.
But how would those REF panels know if a peer-reviewed article was good or bad if all those peer-reviewed journals publish silly makey-uppy things?
That’s quite enough learning for one day, Albert. Now, off to bed. And quickly. Or the bogeyman will get you.
Thought for the week
(contributed by Jennifer Doubleday, Head of Personal Development)
“Next week’s lecture on False Memory Syndrome is titled ‘Poppleton: The Glory Years’.”