News in brief

November 17, 2011

New Generation Thinkers

AHRC joins BBC for a rerun

An initiative to identify and support "the next generation of public intellectuals" is to be repeated next year. The Arts and Humanities Research Council and BBC Radio 3 have announced plans to run the New Generation Thinkers scheme again in 2012, after its success this year. The inaugural scheme attracted more than 1,000 applicants, of whom 57 were shortlisted and 10 picked to work with BBC producers to broadcast on their research. Next year, up to 60 candidates will be shortlisted. The deadline for applications is 7 December.

For details: http://bit.ly/9Dfkl5

MMR/autism research

No inquiry by MPs

The Commons Science and Technology Committee has rejected a call from the British Medical Journal to begin an inquiry into whether Andrew Wakefield's discredited research alleging links between the MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent. The BMJ alleged in May 2010 that the paper reporting the supposed link was an "elaborate fraud". Last week, it raised suspicions about at least six other papers by Dr Wakefield, a former researcher at the Royal Free medical school in London, and said that at least six former senior colleagues at the school, now part of University College London, should be questioned. In an editorial, BMJ editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee said UCL had "a history of trying to sweep this matter under the carpet" and accused it of "institutional misconduct". She said that if UCL did not start an inquiry, MPs should step in. But Andrew Miller, chair of the committee, said that a select committee was "not the right forum for dealing with allegations of professional misconduct".

EU higher education policy

Watch for sins of commission

Universities should be wary of attempts by the European Commission to take more control of higher education policy as it could threaten institutional autonomy, a House of Lords committee has heard. Colin Riordan, vice-chancellor of the University of Essex, said recent policy proposals from the commission may reflect a feeling in Brussels that it "ought to be more closely involved" in the sector across the Continent. Giving evidence to a new inquiry by the Social Policies and Consumer Protection EU Subcommittee, Professor Riordan, who leads on international policy for Universities UK, said: "I think that's something that we do need to be aware of and keep an eye on." Noting "some scepticism" about the speed with which the Bologna Process was achieving change, Professor Riordan argued that the process was working well precisely because it was being pursued consensually rather than being imposed: "If you try to direct alignment, that is going to work very much against university autonomy, and we have to defend against that."

Coalition reforms

Universities hit by 'blitzkreig'

The government's higher education reforms have "accelerated" a long war between universities and the political and business elite into a "blitzkrieg", two academics argue in Oxford Magazine. Simon Head and Howard Hotson say the coalition's policy "seizes the opportunity of a funding crisis to push through dramatic and irreversible changes before the universities can organise effective resistance". Their essay comes ahead of Universities Under Attack, a one-day conference at King's College London on 26 November that will feature contributions from them and other academics.

ONLINE NOW

Last week's analysis of ghost authorship and guest writing was picked up by David Colquhoun, former A.J. Clark professor of pharmacology at University College London.

He writes: "Ghost authorship is...restricted almost entirely to clinical medicine (how ironic that the caring profession should be the most corrupt). But guest authors are common throughout science...One reason for this is the habit of boneheaded beancounters who insist on mismeasuring the worth of research by counting publications and citations when deciding if you should get a grant or be promoted."

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