Archive for March, 2010

Latest in Simon Singh case: Judgment in Simon Singh’s appeal tomorrow

March 31, 2010 Leave a comment

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Dear Friends

Tomorrow morning the appeal judgment in Simon Singh’s case with the British Chiropractic Association will be handed down at the Royal Courts of Justice. It is going to be a very important day for us as this judgment will have implications beyond Simon’s case on science writing and on libel law reform.

The judgement, written by three of the most senior judges in England and Wales – Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice Sedley – is on Simon’s appeal against the preliminary ruling on meaning given by Mr Justice Eady in May 2009. It will determine whether Simon can defend his writing as fair comment or will have to justify it as fact.

Please do come to Court 4 at the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London tomorrow, Thursday 1st April, at 9.30 am to hear the result and show Simon your support.

Simon was interviewed about his case and the wider campaign for The Times on Saturday. Read it here:

For a round up of the case so far, and possible implications of the judgement, see Jack of Kent’s blog here:



[What do you do with failing schools? Especially at Primary Level?] Education reform: Seven questions for Diane Ravitch | The Economist

March 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Education reform: Seven questions for Diane Ravitch | The Economist.

The ‘No Child Left Behind’ (or NCLB) Act has not really permeated educational policy discussions here in Ireland (see this wiki entry for a description). This is a pity as it has generated a huge evidence base on what might be effective and ineffective means of intervening in educational systems to improve standards. This interview is a must-read: it is with a proponent of NCLB, who has changed her mind, because the evidence indicates the new policy has not been working. [She comments, inter alia, that schools and states lower standards to meet targets.]

Money quote:

There is no evidence that closing schools, firing principals and teachers will magically produce better schools. There is no evidence that there are 5,000 outstanding principals waiting to be called to lead these schools, or that hundreds of thousands of “great” teachers will leave their jobs to teach in stigmatised schools. This is the same punitive approach embedded in NCLB. It rests on a fundamental belief that schools need incentives and sanctions, a whiplash to improve. It is based on test scores, and it will do nothing to lift education in those schools or in any other schools.

Creating an all-pervasive culture of educational excellence throughout an education system turns out to be harder than anyone would have thought. Surprising, that. But great to see someone change their mind when the evidence mandates it. years Diane Ravitch frustrated progressives with well-honed arguments in favour of charter schools, standardised testing, an education marketplace and accountability. She served as an assistant secretary of education during the first Bush administration, where she worked on creating academic standards at the state and federal levels.

Another comment on the utility of university ranking systems – Prospective students appear to ignore them! [Speakers at London Meeting Analyze How Students Choose Colleges Abroad « Ninth Level Ireland]

March 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Speakers at London Meeting Analyze How Students Choose Colleges Abroad « Ninth Level Ireland.

A quote:

The single most important factor in influencing where students look first as they seek information about programs abroad is the guidance of friends and family members, Rebecca Loades, an associate director at the Graduate Management Admission Council, said her organization’s surveys suggest. But there are regional variations. In Africa and the Middle East, undergraduates tend to look to their professors for advice, while students in Latin America are more likely to seek information from external publications.

Surveys of graduate business students reveal three key reasons behind their choice of a particular program, Ms. Loades said: quality and reputation; specifics about the curriculum, such as location and program duration; and career-related factors, such as how well a program meets specific employment goals.

What is really striking about this article is the lack of of reference to university ranking systems as a key variable in student choices. No mention whatsoever! So, rather than imagining hordes of students feverishly studying these rankings and choosing to apply to number 43 rather than number 87 (or some such ranking), students are much more likely to make applications on the basis of what is known within their own social networks, rather than a ranking system. Perhaps ranking systems owe more to the needs of universities to position themselves relative to each other, rather than the needs of students for such rankings? As noted here in a previous post, the two major ranking systems pay little attention to issues as UG/PG satisfaction, UG completion rates or prospective graduate employment salary uplift as function of institution.  So why should students pay attention to the ranking systems? Additionally, neither system measures cost of education: the article notes that ‘as the rupee lost ground against the dollar … [there was a] steep drop in applications from India, while British institutions reported being deluged’.

The Frog Blog – St. Columba’s College Science Department: No Scientist in Ireland’s Greatest

March 28, 2010 Leave a comment

The Frog Blog – St. Columba’s College Science Department: No Scientist in Ireland’s Greatest.

[Post reproduced in full]

RTÉ are asking us to vote on the greatest Irish person ever. They have compiled a “long – list” of 40 famous Irish faces (dead and alive) but no scientist appears on the list. Why not? The Irish have contributed so much to science and discovery, that surely the public should be given the chance to know more about them (the top 5 will have a hour long documentary produced by RTÉ on their life and achievements). But the shocking omission is even more staggering when you see the people who have made the list. Yes, there are many a poet and politician, but also featuring are Stephen Gately, Colin Farrell, Joe Dolan, Ronan Keating, Padraig Harrington and Louis Walsh! Surely we can replace these minor celebrities with people like Robert Boyle (pictured on the left), John Holland, John Tyndall, William Rowan Hamilton or Francis Beaufort?

Mary Mulvihill’s excellent blog recently featured this story and there is now an online poll on So vote now and mark a scientist as one of Ireland’s greatest!

Go and vote!

Categories: Uncategorized

Building on a wealth of knowledge – The Irish Times – Thu, Mar 11, 2010 [From the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government, Professor Patrick Cunningham]

March 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Building on a wealth of knowledge – The Irish Times – Thu, Mar 11, 2010.

From the Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government, Professor Patrick Cunningham.

A quote:

Ireland’s growing investment in science and technology is unashamedly a part of our economic policy. In fact, two-thirds of this investment is made by business firms. The one-third that is public investment is a strategic support for that.

The economic justification of this public investment rests on two realities. The first is that most of the wealth of the country rests in its intellectual capital. A formal study by the World Bank a few years ago estimated that just 3 per cent of the wealth of Ireland lay in its natural resources, primarily its farmland. A further 14 per cent is the capital that we inherit from previous generations – such as roads, railways and buildings. The remaining 83 per cent is in the knowledge and skills of our citizens, and the collective knowledge, competence, experience and memory contained in our institutions. In other words, in our knowledge economy.

The second justification is that the broader goals of society are only achievable if we have the resources to deliver them.

Will Hutton notes that the recent budget in the UK is aimed at enhancing innovation in the UK. We should not forget that we not are the only one country in this game.

The raft of measures added yesterday is beginning to put Britain on the map (if still far short of what the South Koreans, Swedes, Canadians, Germans and even Americans have done). But it is the first serious effort to support innovation and investment since the war: institutions modelled on Germany’s Fraunhofer organisation are to be created to translate scientific ideas into commercial propositions; there is to be a £4bn UK Finance for Growth fund; income from patents will be ringfenced from taxation; there is to be a green investment bank and a strategic investment fund; Lloyds and RBS are to lend more than £105bn, with bonuses depending on achievement; and a policy will stimulate energy investment with a carbon price floor. Ideas like these have been cordially ignored since 1997, those who advocated them being cast as anti-business or anti-City. Now, at the very last, they are being embraced.

Ireland’s future starts here – The Irish Times – Tue, Mar 23, 2010

March 23, 2010 1 comment

Ireland’s future starts here – The Irish Times – Tue, Mar 23, 2010.

John McHale’s post on the innovation agenda is below.

The article by the university heads s via the link above.

Some quotes:

We welcome the extension of the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation (SSTI) to 2020. In a relatively short period of time, SSTI has established both the pipeline of graduates in advanced science, engineering and technology and the other components essential to the growth of a smart economy. We need now to display a fresh urgency and commitment to the RD and innovation agenda. Our international competitors appreciate these imperatives and so must we.


We welcome the implicit acknowledgement that our current funding model is no longer fit-for-purpose and of the need to develop revenue streams sufficient to sustain excellence in our higher education institutions (HEIs). This statement is a welcome contrast to some other pronouncements which have, despite internationally benchmarked evidence to the contrary, questioned investment in HEI-based research.

This last point is very important, and has received relatively lttle coverage. The third-level sector cannot perform as expected if the current substantial disinvestment continues. Fees are coming back in some way, shape or form. Perhaps not this year, but soon.

Why Does Italian Academia Suck? — Crooked Timber

March 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Why Does Italian Academia Suck? — Crooked Timber.

A worrying (and somewhat amusing) post from Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber. For these and many other reasons, it is going to be difficult to see the mainstream of European universities competing in large numbers in research and teaching quality with those of the mainstream in the USA anytime in the next decade or two. [As an aside, and with due acknowledgement to the limitations of ranking systems, it is possibly worth noting that there are no Italian Universities in the top 100 THES-QS 2009 rankings of world universities.]

Why Does Italian Academia Suck? Henry Farrell (post reproduced in full)

Tyler Cowen tosses in an aside about Italy in a post on changes in economics department rankings.

The big change in the former has been the rise of economics departments around the world in virtually all developed countries (though not Italy). It’s now quite easy to encounter a place you have heard of—yet never really thought of—and find they have a bunch of young faculty with articles in tier one journals.

Diego Gambetta and Gloria Origgi make the argument (previewed in this post last year) that people in Italian academia (and in Italy more generally) may not have much incentive to deviate from an equilibrium in which genial incompetence is rewarded with genial incompetence. Roughly speaking – if everyone promises high quality goods or services to each other, but everyone actually delivers low quality services to each other, this may work out to everyone’s advantage because no-body expects too much of anyone else. They provide a fictional example:

Read more…

Categories: European Universities

The Irish Economy » Blog Archive » University Heads on Research

March 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Nice post from irisheconomy (reproduced in full) on innovation.

The Irish Economy » Blog Archive » University Heads on Research.

University Heads on Research

This post was written by John McHale

The heads of UCD and Trinity reflect on the findings of the Innovation Taskforce is today’s Irish Times. I think they provide a timely clarification on the rationale for supporting university research. The idea that the purpose of research is to generate discrete technologies that can be commercialised by Irish firms has gained surprising currency. While this idea does get some empirical support from the literature on localised knowledge spillovers, it is too weak a foundation to support a costly investment programme. A more encompassing rationale includes the role of research—and particularly the integration of teaching and research—in ensuring the broad innovation capabilities of Irish graduates. Brady and Hegarty sum up this broader human capital rationale well:

Read more…

Universities need to pay their senior staff well | Education | The Guardian

March 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Universities need to pay their senior staff well | Education | The Guardian.

Here we go again! It must be the season for having a go at vice-chancellors’ pay. This follows a predictable annual cycle, which usually starts in the late summer with the “isn’t it dreadful how standards in the GCSE have fallen”, followed by “isn’t it dreadful that so many people are passing their A-levels”. Unfortunately, the frequency of the discussion adds nothing to its sophistication.

Whether we like it or not, vice-chancellors are chief executives of large and complex organisations. There are well established and robust methodologies for comparing the total remuneration package of executives in the private and public sectors and, in general, those in the public sector are significantly lower.

Categories: University Quality

normblog: Higher education and democracy

March 22, 2010 Leave a comment

normblog: Higher education and democracy.

Thought-provoking post from Norman Geras on the purpose of third-level education (post reproduced in full):

Higher education and democracy

Peter Scott, vice-chancellor of Kingston University, writes of the false alternative, as he sees it, often posed in discussions of the purposes of higher education:

Today there seems to be a black and white choice between “what is higher education for”, bristling with instrumentality, and “higher education for its own sake”, all blue-skies. The truth is neither serves.

Setting out some cognate pairs of options, Scott rejects the either-or they offer, and then explains why. His explanation in short: mass higher education’s ‘essential link with democracy’. The link is better appreciated in the US, Scott says, where going to college is understood as being connected to ‘the founding values of the republic’. For us too, higher education must no longer be about elites; it is about citizens.

That’s all fine and dandy in my book. But Scott’s conclusion rebounds against his premise. If higher education is about democratic citizenship, then I’d want to challenge his dismissal of one of the choices from which he began: namely, higher education for its own sake. I’d challenge his dismissal of this on the grounds that I doubt there is a better way of educating citizens, educating participants in democracy, than making available to them the free and open environment that goes with the traditions of a liberal education. Shaping higher education towards some special programme of learning-for-citizenship doesn’t sound at all appealing. It’s reminiscent of civics lessons at school. It would narrow rather than broaden. Let people teach and study what interests them, but with the discipline that true study demands; try to ensure that it really is study and not merely farting about.

Posted by Norm at 01:47 PM | Permalink