'Misleading' science career report criticised

February 11, 2010

A report commissioned by the Government as part of a campaign to promote science has been criticised for its "cut-and-paste" text and use of Wikipedia as a reference source.

The Shape of Jobs to Come was commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as part of its "Science: So what? So everything" campaign.

It looks at careers that could emerge from advances in science and technology over the next 20 years, from "body-part maker" to "weather modification police".

The report, published last month, was promoted by many including Lord Drayson, the Science Minister, and Gordon Brown.

But an academic is taking to task both BIS and the consultancy that produced the study, Fast Future, claiming that the report is substandard and could mislead people.

Jonathan Mendel, a lecturer in human geography at the University of Dundee, said the report used "unjustified methodologies" to reach its conclusions and was "overly reliant" on weak online sources and media reports, with some sections referencing only Wikipedia.

Although sources are referenced, he said the report lifted "significant passages of text" word for word.

Dr Mendel also questioned the Government's use of "weak research" to promote a rosy view of future jobs in science when funding was being cut. He said he had challenged BIS officials about the report but they had insisted it was "rigorous and credible for their purposes".

"Given BIS' role in universities and research, this raises worrying questions about some of the ways in which BIS understands, communicates and uses research," he said.

A BIS spokeswoman said the report was a "speculative look" into the future intended to spark public interest in science and did not inform policy or affect funding decisions.

Rohit Talwar, founder of Fast Future and co-author of the report, said a wide variety of people had been asked about possible future jobs, and maintained that citing websites, news reports and blogs was "accepted best practice in horizon scanning".


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