What's in a name?

August 29, 1997

Leave nothing unquestioned. Think the unthinkable. The Dearing committee may have taken this advice a little too far in drawing up their bibliography.

Ian McNay, head of Anglia Polytechnic University's Centre for Higher Education Management, points out that their zeal for revisionism extends to issuing distinguished education researchers with new names.

Thus there are citations for work on higher education by "W. Gareth", believed to be closely related to the Institute of Education's Gareth Williams, and for "Smither and Robins", truncated variants on Alan Smithers and Pamela Robinson of Brunel University. Professor McNay adds: "At least they have a name, even if it is wrong. My colleague, John Davies, is not credited with authorship of an OECD conference paper, and this is true of many others." He reckons there are more than 100 errors.

But, Professor McNay argues, there is a much more serious aspect to this: "Academics, the main audience for this report, tend to judge research by tests like the quality of the bibliography.

"The report will be used for years to come by students. I am still using Robbins more than 30 years on. This bibliography would fail a project at undergraduate level and undermines the credibility of the rest of the report." His suggestion, or rather demand, is that it should be reprinted with every error corrected. We can hear the screams from the stationery office printer already.

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