When feuding celebrities, rival politicians or even irascible scholars get into a Twitter spat, they expect a few insults and low blows.
But a UK politics professor has claimed that a fellow academic has crossed the line of acceptable online behaviour by mocking his non-inclusion in the country’s assessment of research excellence.
Tom Gallagher, emeritus professor of politics at the University of Bradford, said he was shocked by what he considered an unprovoked personal attack on his professional standing by Iain Docherty, professor of public policy and governance at the University of Glasgow.
Professor Gallagher was contacted by Professor Docherty on Twitter after writing a comment critical of Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, in which he claimed that Mr Kenny’s “major legacy may be…harming North-South relations on both of our islands”.
“Remind me Tom, did you make it into the last REF [research excellence framework] at Bradford?”, commented Professor Docherty on 30 October, prompting the curt reply of “stop being a prat” from Professor Gallagher.
@iaindocherty Stop being a prat; during 32 years in academia I was included in all the RAEs. You must be great company in the Common Room!— Tom Gallagher (@cultfree54) October 29, 2016
“During 32 years in academia, I was included in all the RAEs [research assessment exercises],” Professor Gallagher added, to which Professor Docherty wrote: “REF 2014…can’t see you in that unless I’m mistaken...please advise”.
Professor Docherty, who was appointed by Scotland’s first minister, and leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon to a new economic growth commission in September, then turned his attention to Professor Gallagher’s latest book, Scotland Now: A Warning to the World, which he self-published in 2015 under the imprint ScotView Publications.
“Tell us a bit about ‘ScotView Publications’. What have they put out recently?” he tweeted after Professor Gallagher had denounced the Glasgow professor’s “Stasi approach” in attempting to “expose me as a quack”.
“He was basically trying to show I had no standing at all, offering as evidence the fact that I had not been entered into the REF,” Professor Gallagher told Times Higher Education. He says his non-inclusion followed a strategic decision by his department not to enter retired staff into the research audit.
“I have published 13 books and all but the last one were published by large publishing houses, including Routledge, Hurst and university presses,” he added. He said his 2015 critique of the SNP was self-published in order to reach an audience prior to the Holyrood elections that year.
“It was shabby for a fellow academic to react as he did,” said Professor Gallagher, who also objected to being labelled a “cyberyoon” by Professor Docherty, a derogatory term used to describe online supporters of Scotland remaining inside the UK.
Professor Docherty defended his actions, saying Professor Gallagher’s recent works had been published by “very small boutique houses” and readers might suppose his latest research had been peer reviewed or edited by major publishers.
“It is important for academics to be completely honest about their status and their work and basis for opinions so that readers can make their own minds up about the content,” he told THE.
However, Professor Gallagher claimed Professor Docherty’s reaction was characteristic of a wider trend in which anti-SNP voices faced “vituperative” attacks designed to shut down debate.
“He shows the ruthlessness and willingness to take no prisoners that is indicative of politicised academics in Scotland,” claimed the Glasgow-born scholar.
Too many academics at Scotland’s universities are in thrall to the SNP, he said, describing it as an “authoritarian political party intolerant of any type of dissent”.
But Professor Docherty said the claim that he was trying to shut down debate was “disingenuous”.
“Tom holds what many people might regard as controversial views as is his right – I retweeted his original post because I thought it was extremely enlightening about a significant strand of opinion on the constitution and its wider contextualisation."