Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sour Grapes Watch

There is a definite smell of very sour grapes coming out of Imperial College London with the news that University College London has moved ahead in the Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings, rising from 26th to 22th. Imperial has fallen from 23rd to 27th, a trivial distance by THES-QS standards. This account is from London Student, an online newspaper.

Jovan Nedic, Editor-in-Chief of Imperial’s student paper Felix, said: “I mean
just look at the [ARWU] website, that alone tells you that this ranking is a
joke. None of the scoring categories are explained and the ones that are obvious
are not the best indication on what university is all about. It calls itself an
academic ranking, so why is a score on Alumni important?”This ranking is nothing
more than a joke and I’m surprised that London Student are even bothering to
look at it.”As to whether the new rankings meant UCL was ‘better‘, he continued:
“Academics and employers alike all recognise the Times one as the standard, only
those results will mean anything to Imperial students, until then, UCL and the
other 21 above Imperial can (in case they don’t get that, I mean all the ones
that are between 6th and 27th) can only dream to be better!”The difference
between criteria used in university rankings is a long-standing bone of
contention. While ARWU gives higher scores to universities whose staff and
students win Nobel Prizes, The Times bases 40 per cent of its scoring on
researchers peer-review - where experts are asked to list institutions they
think are top in their area.

There are a few errors here. The ARWU categories are explained in the methodology section. Not all academics and employers recognise the Times (actually Times Higher Education, not the same thing) as the standard, especially in the USA. It is stretching things a bit to refer to the experts in the THE-QS "peer review". To be a reviewer requires no greater expertise than the ability to sign on to the mailing list of World Scientific, an academic publishing company that has -- this is no doubt completely irrelevant -- an interest in Imperial College Press.
Another University Ranking

This one is from the Global Language Monitor. which "has ranked the nation’s [USA] colleges and universities according their appearance in the global print and electronic media, as well as on the Internet and throughout the Blogosphere. "

The top ten universities are:

1. Harvard University

2. Columbia University

3. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

4. University of California, Berkeley

5. Stanford University

6. University of Chicago

7. University of Wisconsin, Madison

8. Yale University

9. Princeton University

10. Cornell University

The top ten colleges are:

1. Colorado College

2. Williams College

3. University of Richmond

4. Middlebury College

5. Wellesley College

6. Bucknell University

7 . Amherst College

8. Oberlin College

9. Vassar College

10. Pomona College

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

University Research Expenditure Rankings

There is an interesting ranking of US universities by the National Science Foundation according to total research and development expenditure.

Here are the top ten:

1. Johns Hopkins
2. Wisconsin (Madison)
4. Minnesota
5. UC San Francisco
6. Washington
7. UC San Diego
8. Stanford
9. University of Pennsylvania
10. Duke

But does spending a lot of money necessarily lead to a high level of research productivity?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Plagiarism Multiple Standards Watch

A couple of recent news stories illustrate the multiple standards regarding plagiarism. Allison Routman, an undergraduate student, was kicked off a university of Virginia educational cruise ship for copying precisely three phrases from Wikipedia into a film review. The exact phrases were "when the Germans attacked the Soviet Union during Operation Barbarossa", "German speaking minority outside of Germany" and "who had been released from a concentration camp".

Assuming that the student has given a full and accurate account -- we have not heard from her instructors -- this would seem far too draconian. Would we consider a researcher who wrote "recent research has clearly shown that" to be plagiarising?. That phase gets 748 results from a Google Search.

Meanwhile , a new ranking by Forbes has put the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale in 489th place among US colleges. The president of the university, Glenn Poshard, had plagiarised a substantial part of his doctoral dissertation written for the university's Department of Higher Education but a committee found that the plagiarism was inadvertent and he just had to revise the offending sections. Neither Poshard nor the university seem to have suffered much from the affair.

Next, Joe Biden has been picked as Barack Obama's running mate. Biden is well known for his plagiarism of a speech by Neil Kinnock during his presidential campaign and that was not his first offense. Still it has not hurt very much in the long run.

Incidentally, one wonders why Biden bothered to copy such a ridiculous passage . Kinnock said

Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get
to university? Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand
generations to be able to get to university? Was it because our predecessors
were thick? Does anybody really think that they didn't get what we had because
they didn't have the talent or the strength or the endurance or the commitment?
Of course not. It was because there was no platform upon which they could

Well, for 977 of those thousand generations it was because there were no universities in Scotland for anyone to go to.