Archive for November 1, 2009

Brake Points

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 1, 2009 by telescoper

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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