Three notable conversations

Internet is changing some aspects of the world we live in. Faster and easier verbal communication between individuals with more dialogues appearing intentionally in the public domain. In separate conversations, I engaged today with Richard Ashcroft, Professor of Bioethics in the Department of Law at Queen Mary University of London and with Anne Marie Cunningham, General Practicioner and Clinical Lecturer in Cardiff University, Wales, UK, neither of whom have I met in person. My “good friend and colleague” also blogged over the use of words in misuse of power, in reply to last night’s tweet from Mexico City! The conversations follow below and can be independently accessed via our respective twitter accounts; I have assumed twitter users don’t mind the reproduction.

1st conversation brings up Medawar and Orwell in the context of John Allen’s dismissal

Fanis: … “words are the only thing we have to communicate in an otherwise lonely universe” … words fail me.

Prof John Allen: “No-one who sincerely believes he has something important to say will knowingly run the risk of being misunderstood” -Medawar.

Fanis: Does Medawar’s crisp quote stand independently of actor’s honesty? Scientists-at-heart forget truth can be knowingly twisted.

Prof John Allen: Point of View – BBC Radio 4 Attack on Orwell, OK; not OK on need for understanding & being understood.

Fanis: precisely! Use of words in misuse of power | John F. Allen’s Blog


2nd conversation

David Drew: The academic parallel to what happens to excellent NHS clinician ‘misfits’.

PDara: Scientific Cabal?

Alan Simpson: Concerning

Lewis Haddow: Depressing if true

Brita Roy: Shocking and shameful

Brian Hodges: Hard hitting keynote by Richard Horton “We have created a university culture which is intolerant of dissent”

[aha! so this may provide an explanation of renewed interest in our case – I am indebted to the editor of The Lancet for reporting]

Ajay Major: Both authors of this article were fired for dissent against universities, says .

Anne Marie C: hoping to verify this with

Fanis: Dear Anne Marie, thank you for asking for recent events see

Fanis: asks whether and I were fired for dissent… managers say for gross misconduct and redundancy respectively.

Anne Marie C: thanks ++ – was wondering if I might have misquoted and was uncertain about libel etc

Fanis: we in Lancet: “Yet the Dean managed to pick out others—for oblivion, not just criticism.” However, see:

3rd conversation

This one took me even more by surprise, although David Colquhoun has been a staunch supporter and defender of academic values and thankfully he is not letting the issue go away. What was remarkable was a renewed public engagement of a senior QMUL academic, whom I thank for the contribution. It all started with a question from someone writing under the pseudonym…

The Golden Meerkat: just read your piece on Queen Marys new staff evaluation policy from 2012. wonder how it turned out?

DC: disastrous. For both and academia as a whole

The Golden Meerkat: did they really went through with their cuts based on these dubious criteria?

DC: Yes, they did. has no idea how to assess people, and less idea bout how to keep high morale. Bad management

The Golden Meerkat: the implication is, it did harm others. how many of your colleauges were affected by the policy? and what has the gained from the shift in policy till now? positive outcomes?

DC: ask that 10 years from now

DC: Any response? RT : I’d intended to say , but I’m very surprised at silence of ethics people

RA: you are asking me to comment on my employer’s HR policy from my “official” twitter a/c, and I am not going to.

DC: that strikes me as deeply unethical! Why not? I have done so Has the firing of John Allen intimidated you into silence?

RA: no. I am bit intimidated at all. I have worked at 4 British universities, and QM is by far the best I’ve found. I don’t know the facts in the case; so commenting on it would be unethical precisely because I am an employee and would be assumed to have more information than I am letting on – which I don’t. I will say that QM’s policies are pretty mild compared with what I have found are standard practices elsewhere.

DC: so you approve of the D^3 document?

RA: no, and QM did not follow through on this proposal. I was REF lead for my school, and this much I do know.

DC: it was certainly followed through for some people -look at the warngel about Evans’ publications! How many people were fired by Evans et al, in basis of D^3 -like assessements?

RA: you are asking me questions I cannot answer because I don’t have the information.

DC: That’s a pity. Surely as REF lead and ethics person, you should have the information.

RA: REF lead for one school. Not on the Faculty panel. And I am in Humanities. So, not au fait with other Faculties.

DC: well the big purge was in medical sciences, but you can hardly be unaware of it

RA: I am aware of it, but not the detail, and certainly not individual cases. I get my news from the Times Higher.

DC: I wrote the Thunderer comumn in the Times about it too (no paywall at

Stephen John Stenn: Would have liked this better if you hadn’t referred to REF which (like RAE) is also boneheaded.

Fanis: According to did not follow through on proposal by which it sacked me. Hm.

RA: look, I am only saying I don’t know all the facts. What do you want me to do, lie? Invent? so far as use of metrics goes I do know they aren’t in use in my Faculty. That’s all.

DC: Of course not, but there is quite enough in THE to alert anyone with an interest in ethics

Fanis: Very good that crude metrics are not in use in one Faculty. restruction used them.

RA: I am not disagreeing with you that there is much to discuss.

DC: Good. I look forward to hearing your views.

and there was one last interjection into the conversation; on twitter it is easier to go back to a statement and restart from there, in this case “I will say that QM’s policies are pretty mild compared with what I have found are standard practices elsewhere.

Fanis: QM’s policies are pretty mild… precisely why there is reason in revolt.

RA: ok, now here we approach agreement…

One thought on “Three notable conversations

  1. I read today in the Confabulario (the Sunday cultural supplement of the newspaper El Universal) in “La poesía de un caminante” (the poetry of a walker) of José Homero who writes about the poetry of Hugo Gutiérrez Vega and quotes him:

    …palabras, palabras…
    es mejor el silencio
    pero si no crecieran
    estaríamos más solos.

    …words, words…
    silence is better
    but if they didn’t grow
    we would be more alone.

    A different way to say what John had tried to communicate?

    for the whole piece (in Spanish) see

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