How sweet it is: research misconduct claims thrown out at Uni Sydney

Plus Australia’s ordinary to average R&D performance

No so cute kitties

The annual Invasive Animals CRC competition is on for a less than happy snap of a feral beastie up to no good. Previous years have featured pigs and camels, cats and foxes, lots and lots of foxes. (For which the collective noun is a skulk – who knew!). Details are here.

Oh good, another review

The good news is that Clive Smallman has talked through the state of the business school at UWS with a friend and decided that it all could be worse. But as dean Professor Smallman wants it to be better and so told staff on Friday that the faculty would be “rolling out some new professional development opportunities for academic and professional colleagues, around ‘positivity’ and, of course, accreditation.” And he is keen to “iron out the issues in the Open University initiative” (anyone got details). Anything else? Oh yes Professor Smallman is bringing in a retired senior business academic to, you got it, review the faculty. “We are going to take a careful and considered look at our strategy, leadership, management and communication.” UWS bizoids, you are warned.

But there is such a thing as a free breakfast

“Each and every member contributes to the successes of our branch and this year we have a lot to celebrate,” the National Tertiary Education Union at the University of Adelaide announces in inviting members and guests to a complimentary breakfast on August 1. Presumably what they want to celebrate does not include stalled enterprise bargaining negotiations, which leaves Adelaide one the last universities in the country without a new agreement.

Never let a chance go by

New senator James McGrath (Liberal, Queensland) delivered a fighting first speech last week, in which he promised a private member’s bill to abolish compulsory student unionism, (Campus Morning Mail, Friday). It was too good an opportunity for the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, to miss. “CAPA appreciates Senator McGrath is new to his role and may not yet have had the opportunity to read the Student Services and Amenities Fee legislation in full … we are able to comprehensively assure Senator McGrath that the SSAF – sadly – bears no resemblance to compulsory student unionism,” President Meghan B Hopper said. But having set him right on that she went on to score a couple of points; “we suspect that Senator McGrath’s bizarre claims around the Student Services and Amenities Fee may be a ploy to distract students from the government’s damaging funding cuts to universities – including the introduction of fees on PhDs and cuts to the Research Training Scheme.” Can’t criticise her for taking a free kick when offered.

Which made me wonder how the campaign against fees on PhDs is going. CAPA has a respectable 1000 signatures on its petition but the last time I looked the #noFeeson PhDs Twitter campaign has two supporters, Labor senators Kim Carr and Sue Lines. Quality not quantity.

B20 blather

The B20 group of business leaders has a great deal of advice for the G20 to consider when it meets in Brisbane in November. Including “increase the level of alignment and responsiveness between the learning ecosystem and workforce needs.” Now why haven’t inhabitants in the learning ecosystem thought of that before? And academics and trainers are accused of waffling on!

Off the wall but still on the honour roll

A fortnight back CMM ran a story on the Australian Catholic University in Ballarat, which has removed retired bishop Ronald Mulkearn’s name from a lecture theatre, renaming it for the Sisters of Mercy. The Victorian Government inquiry on the way churches and non government organisations dealt with child abuse, Betrayal of Trust found last year that Father Mulkearns “was aware of reports of abuse by priests” in his diocese decades back and “tried to quarantine that information as far as possible.” Given that his name is off a university facility I asked ACU whether it is going to strip Father Mulkearns of the honorary doctorate he was awarded in 1998. It took the university a fortnight to reply that it isn’t. According to DVC Dr Stephen Weller, “the University has detailed criteria and processes for the awarding of honorary doctorates that recognise significant achievements of individuals. The decision to award an honorary doctorate takes into account all information known to the university at the time of the award. The university has not revoked any honorary doctorates in its 25 year history and has no immediate plans to do so.”

Sweet result for researchers

An independent research misconduct inquiry has exonerated the University of Sydney’s Jennie Brand-Miller and Alan Barclay of the Glycemic Index Foundation and the Australian Diabetes Council. Economist Rory Robertson alleged that papers by the pair, arguing that Australian sugar consumption had declined while obesity was increasing, included falsified data and technical errors. Robert Clark, former chief defence scientist, now chair of energy strategy at the University of New South Wales conducted the inquiry. The university published a (not lengthily) redacted version of Professor Clark’s report on Friday.

Professor Clark found some small fault with one of the papers and the way they dealt with Mr Robertson’s concerns however he concluded this did not constitute research misconduct under the university’s code of behaviour. “Their actions lack the intent and deliberation, recklessness or gross and persistent negligence and the serious consequences that are required to meet the definition of research misconduct.”

While expressing gratitude for the finding Professor Brand-Miller and Dr Barclay dispute many of Professor Clark’s findings and suggest “no scientist deserves the bullying and trial-by-media” involved. They also agree to prepare a paper “that specifically addresses and clarifies the factual issues examined in the inquiry.” Does this do anything for the argument that we need an independent research integrity office? I doubt it, there seems no faulting Professor Clark for thoroughness and the university certainly did not shield its own.

Ordinary to average in R&D

There is a enough data in the new OECD figures on science and technology spending among member nations to make a case for just about every interest group. On the headline data however Australia looks around the average. The two-thirds/one-third spending split between industry and government is close to the overall OECD outcome, although universities here do more of the work (26 per cent) than the average (18 per cent). While Australia devotes a smaller per centage of GDP to research and development the figure is not much below the 2.8 per cent figure across the organisation. In contrast, the Finns and Israelis lead the OECD, both spending over 4 per cent. And we are not doing well in commercialising research in key areas. In 2012 Australians were awarded 499 ICT patents, compared to 855 in Israel, 18,167 in Japan and 20,243 in the US. In biotech Australia had just 149 patents, while the US had 4,174.

Who’s calling

The University of Sydney is changing telcos (Optus is out Telstra is in) but as no one knows exactly who has a phone/tablet/mobile modem management is asking staff to complete a survey so their kit is switched over. I wonder why they just don’t ring and ask, assuming the phone book is up to date.

Market at work

The University of Queensland and its near namesake, the University of Southern Queensland, have reached agreement for the former to hand its Ipswich campus to the latter. Subject to regulatory approvals, the deal will be done in January, although UoQ will teach-out degrees there for two years. So research-rich UoQ focuses on its heartland while teaching-specialist USQ expands its market. Expect to see more changes in strategy if (and this morning it is a big if) Christopher Pyne’s deregulation package is passed.

Tell your friends

Facebook has a new app for the famous, called Mentions. It will allow the adored to see what people are saying about them, create Q&As with fans, post content from phones and join trending conversations. Gosh if I had to put a name to the face, I’d call it Twitter. Facebook says it’s an app for “athletes, actors, musicians and other influencers” but how long before a university gets in on the act?

Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au