Really good analysis of the Laffer curve and its misuse by those on the right.

The SKWAWKBOX

This post is going to be slightly technical, but if you possibly can, please plough through to the end. If you’re reading this blog because you want to know the truth about what the Coalition government and its supporters say about the economy, I think you’ll find it worthwhile. Honest!

If you pay attention to the economic debates and reports that feature fairly frequently in the media, you’ve probably heard of a concept called ‘The Laffer Curve‘ – and if you haven’t yet, you soon will. For supporters of tax-cuts for the wealthy, the Laffer Curve is very useful – their ‘go-to’ argument as a support for the idea that cutting taxes for the rich is actually good for all of us.

The Laffer Curve is a term coined to express an idea by the right-wing US economist Arthur Laffer, who was a member of Ronald Reagan’s ‘Economic…

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I thought I would reblog this as there are some interesting links to comments about what is happening at Queen Mary, University of London. I think this is atrocious behaviour by the management at QMUL, but I have heard that it is also happening elsewhere and I wouldn’t be surprised if other universities don’t start doing the same, either before REF2014 or after (when their scores aren’t quite as good as they’d hoped).

QMUL UCU

UK Academia is Dying from Over-Management: The Queen Mary Scandal by Jeremy Garwood is a good summary of events with key references.

UK university culture: Academic Values No Longer Add Up by Jeremy Garwood is an analysis of the damaging application of crude metrics to Queen Mary academics (requires PDF reader).

Metrics critic’s marching orders: Queen Mary makes Fanis Missirlis, persistent thorn in management’s side, redundant by Paul Jump exposes the unfair treatment of one vocal lecturer and active UCU member.

Redundancies at Queen Mary, University of London by Rachel Ashworth is a call to defend the subject of Physiology, a victim of the proposed restructuring.

Is Queen Mary University of London trying to commit scientific suicide? by David Colquhoun is a defence of core academic values against the absurdity of crude metric applications, which lead to bad science.

I would never dream of criticizing my own institution has…

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More REF madness

If you’ve read any of my earlier posts (The negative impact of REF and REF2014:Good or bad?) you’ll know that I’m not a fan of the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework. To add to my discomfort, I heard a rumour recently that all (or most) of the academic staff in an Astronomy group somewhere in the UK were having to reapply for their jobs and that there would be 3 fewer jobs available than are currently filled. Furthermore, the reason for doing this (according to my source) is not because of financial constraints, but because the university (or department) believe they can improve their REF score by reducing the size of the Astronomy group and re-investing that money in a different area. I don’t know if this is true and I’m a little surprised that there hasn’t been more of an outcry if it is indeed true. If anyone knows anything and would like to comment, feel free to do so.

What does, however, seem to be true is that something very similar is happening at Queen Mary, University of London. As highlighted by the the telescoper in a recent post (Reffing Madness). The management at Queen Mary, University of London seem to think that they can improve their REF score by restructuring some departments, which will require sacking a large number of academic staff. There is much more detail in David Colquhoun’s post, but essentially the management has defined targets for number of publications, number of publications in high-impact journals, number of PhD students, and amount of grant income. They’ve set level for each stage of an academic career and anyone who doesn’t meet these targets will be out.

As pointed out by David Colquhoun in his post, and by many of the commentors, the targets don’t make sense in the first place. Furthermore, two academics who wrote a letter to the Lancet criticising this new policy are now under investigation for “gross misconduct”. All of this seems like a complete violation of what an academic career is about and entirely distorts the purpose of universities. Ultimately we want to engage with students and the public and carry out scholarship and research to better understand the world around us. This requires getting funding to support the research and requires publishing papers so that our work can be made available to other academics and, ideally, to the general public. The reason we do research is not so that universities can make money. We get money to support our research.

Prioritising research income and number of publications seems like an extremely dangerous strategy. It may be successful in the sense that research income and number of publications may indeed increase, but it doesn’t guarantee that what takes place will have any intrinsic value. In fact, I would argue that it almost guarantees that what takes place will not have any intrinsic value. It also essentially ends academic freedom. Not only can you be investigated for “gross misconduct” if you publicly criticise your university’s management, you can also be fired if your research track record does not match what your management regards as acceptable. Again, not only does this create an environment where academics are reluctant to take risks with their research, it also makes it much more unlikely that anyone who has career options would come to work at a UK university.

I won’t say much more as others have commented more fully and more clearly than I have. I’ll finish this post with a quote about university managers from David Bignell, emeritus professor of zoology at Queen Mary. Others have already highlighted this quote, but I think it is worth doing it again as it probably comes as close to hitting the nail on the head as it is possible to do.

“These managers worry me. Too many are modest achievers, retired from their own studies, intoxicated with jargon, delusional about corporate status and forever banging the metrics gong. Crucially, they don’t lead by example.”