Innocent spin inviting a laugh or public display of dishonesty?

I wrote in August 2012

It is time… to intervene and force a change in leadership at Queen Mary. Otherwise, future generations will learn by example that those who disrespect academic integrity are rewarded with university title and published fanfare in the academic press

If scientists knowingly spin an incorrect statement into the title of a paper and present a misleading finding of fact, qualified in footnote with reference to a table, the table showing that title, finding and footnote do not stand to scrutiny, what happens to their reputation?

I ask here again if science and modern university management are presently in conflict. The question follows what Queen Mary management has published in the University’s website:

QMUL has been ranked 9th among multi-faculty institutions in the UK, according to tables published today in the Times Higher Education*.Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 1.31.35 PM* QMUL is ranked 11th overall, and 9th if specialist institutions are removed, as is traditional.

At first glance there is no major problem, apart from the traditional spin and the failure to acknowledge that the Universities of Edinburgh and Bristol have also been ranked jointly 11th (3.18). This also demonstrates their superiority to the Universities of Sheffield, York and Bath (3.17) and “trashing” Manchester to 17th position (a mere 3.16). However, the Principal of Queen Mary (to whom I was referring in my opening quote) set a Performance Indicator and Target – to be in the top 10 Universities in the ranking listed above. Council holds the Principal to account and will consider whether Queen Mary improved its prior ranking amongst UK Universities following the brutal restructurings where dismissals for decimal points have occurred.

As is traditional in football rankings, when two teams have the same number of points their order is determined by their score-balance of goals. Following an analogous methodology, the ranking order in the table above has taken into account QMUL’s research power (sic) and positions the University exactly where it was before, #13 by GPA (just count). That QMUL maintained its position is also clear by the Ranking of Universities as published in the Guardian. Here there is no controversy and QMUL ranks at the exact same position it did in 2008: #20 by Research Power.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 6.16.18 PM

Reading the official response of Queen Mary University of London to the recent announcement of the REF outcomes reminded me of David Colquhoun’s Questions:

Is the University trying to commit scientific suicide? Does Simon Gaskell care? “Simon Gaskel makes a cock-up”.

Given the decline in academic standards, expectations of how the University would be ranked had dropped considerably. Finding out that in two tables where comparative data exist the University maintained its position gives reason to rejoice. However, when a University management sets metrics-based targets and dismisses academics who don’t meet thresholds (ignoring their overall performance, their prior contracts, agreements and service) it follows that the managers’ own accountability should follow the same numerical rules. I have written before that Queen Mary managers claim that they pass thresholds which they don’tIs Queen Mary’s Principal now doing the same? The answer to this question should be established. Sir Nicholas Montagu was asked who holds a university board to account? “The board holds itself to account” was his reply. Let us observe what Queen Mary Council’s reaction will be.

12 thoughts on “Innocent spin inviting a laugh or public display of dishonesty?

  1. After publishing this post, I visited with my family la Cola de Caballo near Monterrey, Mexico. I complete it below.

    As Queen Mary was quick to quote the Times Higher Education ranking, there is one more ommission it made. Editor John Gill was clear: “Some argue that an approach such as [the one used], which focuses purely on the quality of submissions without taking any account of their size, encourages universities to “game play” – to submit only their very best researchers in the hope of maximising their GPA for reputational purposes (and funding be damned)”.

    First a correction – “submit their very best researchers” has nothing to do with what managers have done to chose whom to submit as has been explained over and over. Darwin’s Origin of the Species wouldn’t have counted, to quote from an Employment Judge who was understanding the use of objective metrics, etc.

    John Gill announced another ranking on the 1st of January, in which how many academics work at each University is taken into account fairly (i.e. in the absence of the distasteful game-playing). I look forward to the resulting representations, where “game-players” are automatically exposed by experiencing a drop, in contrast to institutions who value their academic staff and submit their full potential honestly; such institutions will see their positions improved.

    Until the Times Higher Education produces its analysis, I recommend John O’ Leary’s Rankings, data, tables and spin as an appetiser, from where one gets the following table.

    So is Queen Mary 9th, 13th, 20th or 34th best University in the UK? Does all this matter? If SBCS is anything to go by, the current submission excluded far more people compared to the RAE. So did Queen Mary overall do significantly worse, but managing to maintain a positive appearance? We would need the non-existing information from RAE 2008 “eligible staff” from all institutions to assess this. The trouble with standing back and having good laughs is that those on the top destroy lives and the universities. It is prime time to change course before further restruction takes place.

  2. Poppleton cannot match Queen Mary. From “News, events and other musings from Queen Mary University of London” on twitter:

    Click on the link in the message to see who named last week QMUL “in the top 10 multi-faculty universities for research in the UK”. Any observer that agrees with their self-nomination please get in contact to let me know…

    https://twitter.com/thereaIbanksy/status/547181146157481984

    1. Statistical noise?
      Not enough “branding” this year? (this is in reference to the invitation from the Times Higher Education on the announcement of its results)

      Back to 101-200 this year on the same ranking…

      1. predictably – there were no announcements from QMUL this year regarding their drop in ranking; just a subtle change in their job announcements…

        “Queen Mary is one of the largest colleges in the University of London and one of the UK’s leading research-intensive institutions, joining the Russell Group in 2012, recently ranked in the top 10 of UK Universities (REF2014) and frequently ranked in the top 100 in the world QS ranking.”

        Two lies in one sentence…

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