News in Brief

February 24, 2011

Research misconduct

UEL to investigate lecturer

The University of East London has confirmed that it is formally investigating one of its academics after more allegations of research misconduct against him came to light. A University College London investigation concluded in November that Jatinder Ahluwalia, now a senior lecturer in pharmacology at UEL, had almost certainly committed research fraud while working at UCL as a postdoctoral researcher in the mid-2000s. The website Retraction Watch stated last week that Dr Ahluwalia had also been dismissed from the University of Cambridge's graduate programme in 1997 after his supervisor suspected him of faking results. The website also published a letter claiming that UEL staff are in "uproar" over the university's failure to respond to the allegations. In a statement, UEL says it opened a "formal investigation involving external independent peer review" last December, which is still ongoing.

Technology and innovation centres

MPs call for Turing honour

The government's proposed network of Technology and Innovation Centres should be called Turing Centres, according to the Commons Science and Technology Committee. Its report welcomes the government's £200 million commitment to the network of technology transfer institutes and recommends that they imitate Germany's Fraunhofer institutes in raising funds via competitive funding and private-sector contracts. It calls for the network to build on existing centres and employ a "hub and spoke" model to spread economic benefits throughout the UK. The committee suggests naming the centres after Alan Turing, the computing pioneer and codebreaker. Turing, a homosexual, was prosecuted for gross indecency in 1952, accepted chemical castration as an alternative to prison, and died two years later, probably through suicide. "This country owes him a debt of obligation for the way he was treated," the report says.

A-level qualifications

Teacher forecasts miss the mark

Teachers usually overestimate the A-level grades students will achieve, a study by a major exam board has found. Cambridge Assessment found that, for OCR A levels taken in 2009, 55 per cent of teachers' predictions were accurate. In a third of cases, teachers predicted that the student would do better than was the case. Students did better than predicted in 12 per cent of cases. Independent and grammar schools were the best at predicting A-level grades, while further education colleges and comprehensive schools were most likely to over-predict. The A grade was the easiest to forecast. "This may be partly because the range of marks for an A is much larger than for lower grades," states the study.

Royal Society Prize for Science Books

New sponsor saves the day

Fears that the Royal Society Prize for Science Books could disappear because of a lack of sponsorship have proven unfounded. The Royal Society has struck a five-year deal with investment firm Winton Capital Management to secure the future of the prize, which has been running since 1988. The award honours the best of popular science writing with an annual £10,000 prize. It was won last year by biochemist Nick Lane for Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution.

http://royalsociety.org/sciencebooks

ONLINE NOW

Last week's report on the growing trend for universities to demand that new academics hold doctorates provoked debate online. A reader writes: "Whilst having a PhD can never be a bad thing, I taught at Birkbeck for about five years as a sessional until finally a vacancy came up and then was told I was not eligible to apply as I had no doctorate. This despite the fact that the department was teaching- rather than research-focused and that staff teaching on the courses were meant to have considerable industry experience. Sure enough, they appointed someone who had just completed their PhD but had no teaching experience and who is now making a real pig's ear of things..."

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