Antithesis

January 19, 1996

Starter for five

Scourge of evasive politicians and anatomiser of the failings of the British establishment, the BBC's Jeremy Paxman might seem a natural hero for students. But not so.

No fewer than five further education college unions have put their names to motion No. 128 for the National Union of Students national conference condemning the reintroduction of University Challenge as a "perpetuation of the class divide" and damning the abrasive question master as "a modern day, overtly sarcastic version of Bamber Gascoigne" who should be replaced forthwith by the somewhat less intellectually demanding daytime television presenter Dale Winton. As they dislike the programme so much, you have to wonder why they want NUS to campaign for the admission of further education colleges.

Expert witness

We hope that Jerry Stanford was not consulted before Southampton Institute issued its splendid new Directory of Experts to a waiting press this week. The THES postal system has been brought to its knees by the arrival of about 60 copies of this fascinating document, well over two per member of staff.

Mr Stanford is listed as the local expert on "freight logistics".

Doubtless he would point the finger instead at the institute staff responsible for the BA in corporate communications. Were they involved in the copies in which pages 9-14 and 39-44 appear as a loose-leaf insert which escaped the stapling machine?

Sum mistake

Coming soon to a bookshop near you is A Mathematician Reads The Newspaper, a highly entertaining exploration by John Allen Paulos, professor of mathematics at Temple University, Philadelphia, of how mathematical incompetence breeds misleading news stories. It also unwittingly demonstrates that there are other sources of inaccuracy as Professor Paulos explains that one of the leading newspapers in Britain is the Manchester Guardian. Cannot think why he left out the News Chronicle.

Science takes off

The THES's copy of the winter 1995 Science and Public Affairs magazine produced by the Royal Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science mysteriously disappeared before staff could thumb through. Shame.

Because we do have the press notice that was sent out with the issue. It informs the reader that "other articles in this issue of Science and Public Affairs includes an editorial on why the most important thing about science is its boringness - 'sexy' science is a misleading image - and a feature on why it would be worth making the trip to probe Pluto". Is this a signal that in 1996 science will finally become surreal?

New leaf

Peter Dow, a former Aberdeen postgraduate who launched a defamatory leafleting campaign against the university after failing his MSc dissertation, has unexpectedly begun another campaign. The Court of Session last month deferred sentence for a year after Mr Dow promised to stop distributing the defamatory leaflets. Having acquired all this experience of self-publishing, he has now returned to the university campus to provide female staff and students with leaflets entitled "Bachelor (35) seeks girlfriend".

Shadowy minister

An early bidder for higher education PR claim of the year is the University of East London, which last week tempted the press to a photocall at the new Royals University College site with the promise that education minister Eric Forth could be photographed "in the shadow of Canary Wharf".

Our photographer arrived to find that Mr Forth was indeed there, sparing no less than three minutes from his crowded diary, but that with the Docklands landmark three and a half miles away, it would need to have been throwing a shadow about 23 times its own size to incorporate him - just possible, perhaps, at sunset on a very bright day but a rather unlikely proposition at 10.30 on a grey January morning.

That figures

Alumnus to be proud of No. is Dutch film director Paul Verhoeven, perpetrator of Showgirls, which opened to remarkably uniform notices last weekend after sinking faster than Newt Gingrich's poll ratings. His appreciation of figures - female, undraped or merely numeric - was doubtless polished while he was acquring his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Leiden.

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