Brake Points

I thought it would be worth giving a short update on the Mark Brake affair I posted about a couple of weeks ago. If you don’t want to go back to the original post let me just say that Mark Brake is  Professor of Science Communication at the University of Glamorgan and it recently emerged that in 2006 he falsely claimed to have a PhD when applying for a research grant.

The biggest development since then is that the Times Higher – a magazine for professionals working in Higher Education – has now picked up the story and ran an article in last week’s issue. That piece also refers to the sacking of an (unnamed) employee who blew the whistle on Brake’s conduct and also to the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Dr Paul Roche from the University of Glamorgan in 2003. I don’t know the full story behind these wider allegations so won’t comment on them here, except to say that I hope that they will be investigated more thoroughly so that the true facts can emerge about what is clearly a very murky affair.

However, these wider issues do not alter the fact that Mark Brake misrepresented his qualifications. There is documentary proof that he did so, and the University of Glamorgan doesn’t deny it either. The UoG is keeping very quiet over the press coverage, simply repeating that it had investigated the matter and let Brake off because it was an “isolated incident”. Presumably this means that it is acceptable to misrepresent your qualifications as long as you only pretend to have one doctorate you haven’t got.

I’m staggered that Brake wasn’t immediately dismissed for this offence, which seems to me to amount to gross misconduct. Most of the people commenting on the news item in the Times Higher seem to agree with me on this, although there is one individual called “Skeptic” who appears determined to defend Brake with whatever  argument he/she could muster no matter how specious. The identity and motivation of this individual remain unclear.

Another commenter, however, raised a very interesting point. Here is Section 2 of  the 2006 Fraud Act:

2 Fraud by false representation

(1) A person is in breach of this section if he—

(a) dishonestly makes a false representation, and

(b) intends, by making the representation—

(i) to make a gain for himself or another, or

(ii) to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.

(2) A representation is false if—

(a) it is untrue or misleading, and

(b) the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading.

(3) “Representation” means any representation as to fact or law, including a representation as to the state of mind of—

(a) the person making the representation, or

(b) any other person.

(4) A representation may be express or implied.

(5) For the purposes of this section a representation may be regarded as made if it (or anything implying it) is submitted in any form to any system or device designed to receive, convey or respond to communications (with or without human intervention).

I’m no kind of legal expert, but it certainly looks to me that this might apply in this case. The grant application wasn’t in fact successful, but the offence of fraud as defined by this act simply requires intent. The amount of the application was around £285,000, a sizeable sum by any standards. Maybe the Police should look into it.

If Brake didn’t think it would improve the chances of the application being successful, why did he put false information on it? Are we expected to believe that it was an oversight? That he somehow forgot he didn’t have a PhD? I simply can’t believe that to be the case. It is true that many of us are forced to do rapid cut-and-paste jobs when applying for grants and we can make errors that way. However, that would imply that there is a document somewhere from which the cut-and-paste was made that lists a non-existent PhD alongside a genuine MSc. Who would maintain such a document and why?

Even if this were an “isolated incident” it does seem to me to be an extremely serious case of misconduct. However, I note also that numerous references to “Dr” Mark Brake can be found on the internet, including the BBC website. Isn’t it a bit strange how so many people can have formed the opinion that Mr Mark Brake had a PhD?

It’s probably also worth drawing your attention to Mark Brake’s wikipedia page. If you have a quick look at the discussion page of this item you will that an individual by the name of “Rosit” made repeated attempts to block the insertion of a statement of the fact that  Brake had falsely claimed a PhD, arguing that this was libellous. Of course it isn’t. It’s true. Fortunately, the Wikipedia page  is now factual, at least in this specific respect. Most of the rest of it was written by Rosit also and the accuracy and impartiality of the  content is heavily disputed.

You might ask who is this “Rosit” who seems to be so anxious to prevent the truth coming out? Well, Mark Brake’s partner is called Rosi Thornton. Coincidence?

Just in case anyone accuses me of some sort of vendetta, let me make it clear that I have never met Mark Brake and didn’t know anything at all about the false PhD claim until I read it in the local newspaper. I only moved to Cardiff in 2007, after this affair took place. Apart from my incredulity at their behaviour over this matter, I have no axe to grind with the University of Glamorgan either. My persistence in this stems from concern that what appears to be grave  misconduct has gone unpunished. We academics are in the public eye and are at least partly funded by the taxpayer. We and our employers  have to set an appropriate standard. Without that our standing will continue to be eroded.

As I said, the University of Glamorgan appears to be keeping the lid on a matter they appear to have tried to bury once already. I think they would  be much better off getting it all out in the open. If they don’t people might form the opinion that Universities are willing to turn a blind eye to clear examples of gross misconduct when the individuals involved are good at bringing money in.

And I’m sure that never happens….

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20 Responses to “Brake Points”

  1. Elementary, my dear Peter! Excellent detective work. I wonder if Rosi is also the Skeptic?

  2. telescoper Says:

    Chris,

    I couldn’t answer that. However, the Times Higher might be able to if their software logs IP addresses like the WordPress stuff does…

    Peter

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    As a poster on that thread at the Times Higher I would like to repeat the following, which I regard as the point:

    The PhD is the principal qualification for admittance to the academic community of research scholars. Research *presumes* good faith and could not operate without it, which is why the breaking of that faith is intolerable. Because of specialisation the research community must police itself in order to maintain its good name. There is no point in insulting Brake; the point is to press U Glamorgan to take appropriate action to maintain their reputation.

    Supposing Brake did falsify that form, “appropriate action” means dismissal.

    Anton

    • telescoper Says:

      Anton,

      I agree. And if the University sector is shown to be either unwilling or unable to police itself then it will be playing into the hands of those that want to increase the level of external regulation still further.

      Peter

  4. I’m not that familiar with the law in the UK, but in such a case surely any concerned citizen can formally ask the Crown to investigate a potential crime. It’s probably better if someone living in the UK says so.

    From what I can follow, it seems that Mr. Brake willingly and consciously misrepresented his credentials, at least in part for financial gain. This is fraud, pure and simple. So, concerned citizens, contact the local authorities so that the courts can decide on the matter. (Caveat: make sure your accusation can’t be spun as libel!)

  5. “The PhD is the principal qualification for admittance to the academic community of research scholars.”

    Yes, true, but there are exceptions, even some quite prominent ones: Thomas Gold, Freeman Dyson and, in the more mathematical world, Andrew Gleason (Harvard) and Andrew Casson (Yale).

    The converse is also not true: One can have a doctorate in physics and still spout nonsense, even if one’s doctoral work was OK. One can even have a Nobel Prize in physics and spout nonsense even if the work leading to the Nobel Prize was OK. I’ll check with my libel lawyer before naming names, but I’m sure readers can fill in the blanks if they put their mind to the matter. Even worse is the stance: I have a {doctorate|Nobel Prize} so OF COURSE my views are correct. Again, fill in the blanks.

  6. Please fix the broken link and/or allow editing of comments!

  7. “The PhD is the principal qualification for admittance to the academic community of research scholars.”

    True (although not all doctorates are Ph.D.s), but the main issue here is not that he didn’t have a doctorate, but that he said he did.

  8. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip: I agree with you, which is why I said the PhD is the *principal* qualification, thereby allowing exceptions – but that is what they are. (I could add a favourite unndoctored scholar of my own, David Stove.) Also they are all of the older generation; today the PhD is universal.
    Anton

    PS I know who you mean, he did good work up the junction…

  9. Daniel Mortlock Says:

    I found across a profile of Mark Brake at http://www.academi.org/list-of-writers/i/134239/ which includes the deliciously open-ended phrase “After receiving an education at Cardiff University . . .” It also includes a blurb for one of Brake’s books with the seemingly appropriate title ‘[Different Engines:] How [Science Drives Fiction and] Fiction Drives Science’ (brackets mine).

    As both a scientist and science fiction fan, the book looks like an interesting read, although I’m not quite sure how ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ qualifies as a polemic, which, rather ironically, my dictionary defines primarily as “a strong [verbal or] written attack on someone [or something]” (brackets mine again, ‘cos I like using them so much).

  10. telescoper Says:

    Open the PhD bay doors, Hal…

  11. Anton Garrett Says:

    Daniel: A lot of the jargon in modern literary (and more generally arts) criticism is rather pretentious. This is essentially different from scientific jargon which is shorthand. More to the point, it is also different from the way arts critics wrote until a few decades ago. I think this is a shame, although one can hardly blame Brake for following convention.

    The profile looks pretty similar to the airbrushed version of his Wikipedia page to me. Remember also that it is never to late to get a PhD; all he needs then is a time machine to project it back to 2006…

    Anton

  12. Daniel Mortlock Says:

    Anton:

    Nice distinction between the two types of jargon-usage.

    That said, I still can’t even see the blurb-writer came to use “polemic” to describe ‘2001’ – it just seems to be a randomly chosen word. It wouldn’t be much less sensible to talk about, say, “Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s *rant* on the future of humankind in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ “. Why not call it a limerick? Or a clerihew? Or even a thesis?

  13. Anton Garrett Says:

    Daniel: The core belief in the Arts since the 1960s has been that everything – and I mean everything – in the human world is ultimately “political”. That is the most destructive aspect of Marxist theory, far beyond theories of economics and even class struggle. You thought village cricket was a bit of fun? Forget it, it’s really a political statement. Associated with this is the idea that politics is about power and the winner is simply he who has the most power and shouts loudest; there is really no such thing as truth, and we cannot help but see everything (even scientific observations) through cultural spectacles, so that ultimate reality either doesn’t exist (as postmodernists hold) or is inaccessible (as the ancient Greeks held). All this is the worldview which regards 2001 as polemic. It would be unkind to single out Brake, since most people in most Arts faculties of most universities are now committed to this pernicious drivel. Real Arts scholarship has sadly been wrecked. The comment in parentheses about scientific observations gives you the key to the glorious “Sokal hoax” a few years ago, and is why the wreckers have maths and science in their sights. We shall be driven back unless we counter-attack at philosophical level, which would mean identifying why science arose on one particular culture, Western Europe. I trace it to belief that the world is comprehensible – a view very different from postmodernism. Mediaeval and Renaissance men believed *that* because they in turn believed the world had been made by an ordering intelligence in whose image they were. That belief has gone out of the window today, so unless you can find an alternate motivation for believing that the world is comnprehensible (which the ancient Greeks failed to do, for all their intelligence), then science might be doomed longterm. Please note that I have said nothing about whether the Judaeo-Christian worldview is correct, but merely what one of its cultural outworkings has been. Following which polemic, I’m off to the pub.
    Anton

  14. Daniel Mortlock Says:

    Anton:

    I’m not a huge fan of this aspect of the arts, but I also think you’re generalising way too much. I’ve certainly had many frustrating conversations with humanities academics who genuinely seem to believe that all opinions are equally “valid” (whatever that means) and who would, roughly, agree with your initial claim. But I’ve also loved being able to delve into the history of literature or music or film with people who have a huge wealth of knowledge and understanding about how human beings express themselves.

    Moving back to a field in which I think we’re both far better qualified to comment (literally, since we both have physics PhDs), I absolutely agree that the notion that the universe is comprehensible – or that it follows laws/rules – is absolutely critical to science. I tend to regard it as maybe the deepest “faith” I hold, although it’s not really a faith as I would be prepared to drop it if my waking hours were filled with, say, the bizarre events of my dreams last night. Certainly combining observations with that central idea is almost sufficient to lead to the physics we know and love. I hadn’t personally thought of it as the driving insight that led to modern science arising in Europe a few hundred years ago, but that is certainly a very nice idea at the very least. Sounds like a highly worthy project to undertake in concert with an historian to me . . .

  15. Anton Garrett Says:

    Daniel: What I am saying about the origins of science in mediaeval/Renaissance Europe is not novel. It is a minority view, but I can nevertheless recommend plenty of books.

    About the Arts disaster, I would not have had the confidence/arrogance to say what I did without extensive corroboration from diverse Arts academics who are still sane. Many are older; historians are more grounded than most; but if you have not looked at what passes for scholarship in certain humanities faculties today then you would scarcely believe it. (I have – have you?) There are exceptions of course, but that’s what they are and the Establishment is as I wrote. In no way is this an anti-Arts rant, it’s a rant about how those worthy subjects have been brought low in the last 40 years. Have a look at

    http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/arts.html

    by a man who was a serious academic philosopher (and a scathing writer when he chose).

    Anton

  16. [...] are the facts as reported in the Times Higher Education Supplement which I commented on in my second post on this saga a few weeks [...]

  17. [...] OK, so it turns out I lied about not posting today. It’s not because I’m a dishonest professor, though. It’s just that I couldn’t resist drawing your attention to the new results [...]

  18. [...] by claiming to have a PhD. This is an ongoing story on this blog – see previous posts here, here and here and I had been logging the comments for future reference. I was worried that the comments [...]

  19. [...] In fact RWCMD was absorbed by the University of Glamorgan a short time ago, but still uses its old name as part of the merged institution. Apparently one more merger will be necessary to satisfy HEFCW’s requirement, which I guess will involve UWIC also being absorbed by the University of Glamorgan. If that does happen, I hope HEFCW will keep a close eye on matters of governance. The UoG doesn’t seem to me to have a very strong track-record with respect to resafeguarding standards of academic practice. [...]

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