The week in higher education

March 19, 2009

Prince Charles has come under fire for marketing a "detox tincture", prompting the Daily Mail to rename his Duchy Originals brand "Dodgy Originals". Edzard Ernst, professor of complementary medicine at the University of Exeter, said the £10 potion, which contains dandelion and artichoke and claims to detoxify the body, was quackery, the newspaper reported on 11 March. "I know everything about artichoke there is to know. There is a hint it might lower cholesterol to a very minor degree, but that's all. And there is nothing to know about dandelion," Professor Ernst said.

A campus porn shoot is to be investigated by Loughborough University, which has topped the Times Higher Education student experience survey for three years in a row. It said it was "extremely disappointed" that a scene from a pornographic movie had been filmed on its leafy campus. The shoot came to light when a student recognised a bike shed where a male "actor" meets porn star Delta White in the film, The Sun reported on 12 March.

A "theory of everything" has been produced by two academics to explain social problems from life expectancy and crime to mental illness and obesity. Richard Wilkinson, a retired professor from the University of Nottingham Medical School, and Kate Pickett, a lecturer at the University of York, argue in a new book that all social afflictions have the same root cause: inequality. In The Spirit Level, they argue that it is not just a deprived underclass that loses out in an unequal society, but everyone, including the well-off. This is because it is not the absolute levels of poverty that create problems, they argue, but the differentials in income between the rich and poor.

A Roman joke book has been uncovered by a University of Cambridge academic, who says it debunks the myth that they were "pompous, toga-wearing bridge-builders". Classics don Mary Beard said on 13 March that the jokes "are not side-splitting, but can be quite funny". One of her favourites is an early version of the "doctor, doctor" joke: "A patient goes to see a doctor, and tells him: 'Whenever I get up in the morning, I feel dizzy for half an hour, and then I feel all right.' 'Then wait for half an hour before getting up,' the doctor replies."

Heavy partying by medical students could see them banned from becoming doctors. Plans outlined by the General Medical Council and the Medical Schools Council state that excessive boozing, drug-taking and skipping lectures should be severely punished. The proposals have been tabled amid concerns that medical students are the most "boisterous" of all undergraduates, it was reported on 14 March.

Jane Austen was adept at depicting the turmoil behind the niceties of polite society, so a row between two Austen experts seems somehow fitting. Kathryn Sutherland, professor of English at the University of Oxford, says biographer Claire Harman, a former friend, has used her material in a forthcoming book, Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World, in a way that "feels like identity theft". She told The Observer on 15 March: "I am finding that I cannot write about my own research because people tell me it is too similar to the key arguments in Claire's book ... It is a question of basic courtesy." However, Ms Harman's publisher Nick Davies said Professor Sutherland's work was listed in the acknowledgements of the book, and declined to comment further.

Robin Hood may not have been the altruistic hero of folk belief. According to a 550-year-old note found in an Eton library, the outlaw and his band "infested" Sherwood Forest and terrorised law-abiding folk, including monks. Julian Luxford, a historian at the University of St Andrews, said the note, written in Latin, gave a "uniquely negative" assessment, it was reported on 15 March.

Straight As at A level will no longer be enough for students seeking a place at the University of Cambridge. As www.timeshighereducation.co.uk revealed on 16 March, Cambridge will use the new A* grade because so many applicants get three As, despite calls for it to be ignored in the short term.

john.gill@tsleducation.com.

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