Overseas briefing

June 12, 2008

United States

Medics' perks under scrutiny

US medical schools have drawn criticism for failing to police the money, gifts and samples given to doctors and trainees by pharmaceutical firms. American Medical Student Association research, reported in The New York Times, said nearly one in five medical schools were reviewing conflict-of-interest policies, but most had yet to set clear guidelines.


Reviews may paralyse research

The group representing Australia's top scientists has warned that the ministerial and parliamentary policy reviews could lead the Rudd Government to inaction on scientific research and education. Kurt Lambeck, president of the Australian Academy of Science, told The Australian that the community was "saturated" in reviews. These include the Cutler review of the national innovation system, the Garnaut review on climate change, the Bradley review of higher education, the parliamentary review of research training and the review of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy road map.


Unions defend free speech

The University of Melbourne has come under attack from trade unions after it disciplined an academic who called the authors of a 2007 report on privatisation "liars and frauds" in a public forum. A university inquiry found that Paul Mees, a lecturer in transport planning and an advocate of public transport, had "brought the university into disrepute by making insulting comments" about government officers and said that his "defence of truth should be dismissed". Documents obtained by newspaper The Age showed that one of Melbourne's reasons for acting against Dr Mees may have been concern about its relations with the Government. In a letter to the Government, a university professor wrote that Dr Mees's remarks were "directly contrary to our wish to conduct our relations with the State Government in a spirit of partnership and collaboration".


Students file Facebook complaint

Law students in Canada have filed a legal complaint against Facebook, after examining its policies and practices as part of their degree course. University of Ottawa students have alleged that the social networking site fails to inform members about how their personal information is disclosed to third parties for advertising and other profit-making activities and that it does not get permission from users to do so, according to CBC News. They claim it has committed 22 violations of Canada's privacy laws.

European Commission

Tepid reaction to EU-wide scheme

The European Commission's plans to create a single labour market for researchers have received a "lukewarm response", according to the magazine Chemistry World. The European Partnership for Researchers includes a proposal to allow researchers to carry pensions and other benefits from country to country. But creating a workable system will be difficult because EU member states have sovereignty over the area. The initiative also advocates greater portability of grants awarded by national funding agencies. Ferdi Schuth of the German Research Foundation is reported as saying that he is not convinced that greater mobility will greatly improve research quality.


Pay hike could force layoffs

Australia's universities would have to lay off staff if they agreed to a per cent pay claim from the academics' union, according to the chair of the Group of Eight, which represents the country's top research institutions. Alan Robson told The Australian: "I don't think you could sustain the level of employment that we have with that level of pay increase." The National Tertiary Education Union is seeking the rise over three years.

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