When is a Professor not a Professor?

Now that I’m back from panel duty, I notice that Amazon have finally corrected the misleading information on the page advertising a book by Mark Brake. Until a couple of days ago this page stated that the “author” was a Professor at the University of Glamorgan, despite the fact that it’s over a year since he was dismissed from that position. I’m not sure why they have suddenly removed their misrepresentation but now it merely says that Brake is an “academic”. I think that’s misleading too, as to my knowledge he doesn’t have a job at any university; the OED’s definition of the noun academic is

A member of a college or university; a collegian. Now spec. a senior member of a university; a member of the academic staff of a university or college; also loosely, an academically-gifted person.

Does the loose definition apply?

Meanwhile, this is taken from the front page of Mark Brake’s personal website.

Which seems to demonstrate that although Amazon have corrected their error, Brake himself is content to continue passing himself off as a Professor. I wonder how long it will be until this turns into the version that’s advertised on Amazon?

Also, does anyone know what the “L” stands for in “Mark L Brake”?

72 Responses to “When is a Professor not a Professor?”

  1. According to Paul Roche, it stands for “Lancelot”, and he created it to add “gravitas” to plain old Mark Brake. I guess there are no rules against adding a fictitious middle name or initial, unlike professing to be a professor when one has been dismissed as one.

  2. Dave Carter Says:

    People who retire from a Professorial position are often entitled to continue to use the title. I do not know the stand of the University of Glamorgan on this. Or indeed my own university……

    • Doesn’t that only apply to emeritus staff?

      And the fact that Amazon removed the reference to him being a professor suggests that it wasn’t the case here.

      • It would appear they have not removed the reference to his being a professor. (BTW Peter, I am surprised you said “him being” and not “bis being” above, tut tut, grammar my boy 🙂 )

    • Mark Brake didn’t retire from the University of Glamorgan, he is only 52 according to his wikipedia page. He was dismissed. So Glamorgan didn’t give him an emeritus title.

  3. Surely anyone can call themselves professor, or doctor, or whatever they want in the UK? I don’t think those titles have any legal standing here.

    Saying you are a professor at a particular institution is a different matter, but no different to claiming you are employed at any particular place you are not.

    • I don’t think it’s true that “anyone can call themselves professor or doctor” but it probably depends what they do it for. It’s certainly illegal to misrepresent one’s credentials or standing for commercial gain, because that is fraud. I’m not sure if there is a more general legal proscription, however.

      • Dave Carter Says:

        It certainly is misrepresentation to claim that you have a PhD, or even more seriously to claim that you are a medical doctor when you are not. Professor is a fairly meaningless title, it does not make you who you are, to call yourself Dr. when you have a PhD may also not tell people who you are, but it does tell them one thing you have done.

    • ps. The old issue with Mark Brake was not that he called himself Doctor Brake, but that he falsely stated that he had a PhD when applying for a grant – and, as a matter of fact, on a number of other occasions….

  4. Dave Carter Says:

    Wikipedia produces the example of Doctor John. Also the Reverend Dr. Ian Paisley (who is however a genuine Baron).

  5. I think Peter makes an important point here. Mark Brake has a history of misrepresentation of his expertise, as he falsely claimed to have a PhD on a grant proposal, which is plain and simple fraud. He did this to, presumably, gain more chance of getting the grant. None of us will never know to what extent the Police looked into this, but it was reported to them by several people.

    In the same way, now stating he is a professor is misrepresentation and/or fraud, as he does so to gain financially (in selling his books for example). So I cannot believe that there are not legal repercussions to going around calling oneself a Dr. or Professor when one is not. There was a comment to the book to which Peter has imaged above (Mr. Brake\s “Really big questions” book) on the Amazon website which got removed after about 24 hours. In this comment, a Dominic Guzman pointed out that Brake was dismissed from Glamorgan for lying about having a PhD on a grant proposal, and was no longer a professor. Therefore, Amazon need to correct this information, to not do so was misleading any potential buyers. The fact that they have now done so shows that they realise the legal requirements to do so. Whether there was a legal requirement on Brake to inform them that he had been dismissed is a good question.

  6. Is still says he’s a professor!!!

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Really-Questions-About-Space-Time/dp/0753430193/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317339113&sr=8-1

    About the Author
    Professor Mark Brake is an author, broadcaster and communicator of science. He is an academic, based at the University of Glamorgan, UK, who writes popular science books. Mark has done science communication work in film, television and radio on five continents, including work with NASA, Seattle’s Science Fiction Museum, and the BBC.

  7. I have also just come across this interesting discussion about Mark Brake’s actions in lying about having a PhD and whether they constitute fraud:

    http://chronicle.com/forums/index.php?topic=64071.0;wap2

  8. Anton Garrett Says:

    I regard myself as an academic, albeit outside the universities. An ‘academy’ is in this context another name for a learned society (certainly in Russia). I still attend conferences and write the odd paper – I simply pay my own way. Many of the greatest scientists in history were not university men, and it is a comparatively recent (postwar) idea that only the universities count.

    In the humanities also, Barbara Tuchman, who died in the 1970s, published seven or so books on remarkably diverse historical subjects, working from original materials. She suffered some snobbery from university historians who did much the same thing only in an inferior written style. Academic or not? And do you cease to be an ‘academic’ when you retire from a university?

    Mark Brake is no longer costing the taxpayer money to offer degrees in silly subjects, and provided that the science in his books is accurately and responsibly presented and the ‘prof’ is erased then I wish him well with them.

    • Woken Postdoc Says:

      I agree about the definition of academics outside universities. True academics include all learned, higher-qualified people whose inner vocation is the pursuit of knowledge … whether they’re paid by university, government labs, charitable foundations or self-funded.

      The situation is deliberately confused by a minority of *tenured* university staff who presume to call themselves “academics”, even though they are merely publicists, administrators or project managers, who ride Ponzi-style upon the research efforts of underlings in vast consortia. Some began their careers with genuine academic motivations, but were later swayed or side-tracked. A small number have always been psychopathic imitators, who’re skilled enough to _play_ research as a superficial game, actually in pursuit of power. True “academics” are a set that intersects with “tenured university staff”, but neither is a strict subset of the other.

      As for Brake’s “professorship”: he’s clearly not an angel, but could it be Amazon’s careless hype? They sometimes exaggerate descriptions of pop science books. I’ve heard confided horror-tales about cases when Amazon has been tardy or defiant against authors’ requests for corrections. If you’re keen to write for science outreach, it may be advisable to adopt a pen-name at an early stage.

    • What you see is valid, but I would have thought such people would call themselves “scientist”, “historian” or the like rather than “academic”. This discussion is, however, a bit ..er..academic.

  9. David Whitehouse Says:

    He calls himself an author, broadcaster and communicator of science. Funny that until his Ph.D controversy I had never heard of him!

    In my time I have come across many people who claim to have a Ph.D or be a professor when they are not (some are quite famous people) and I asked the BBC legal folk to look at it.

    Whilst it is an offence to claim to be a “doctor” in the medical sense they couldn’t find any act that makes it an offence to claim to be a Dr or Prof.

    The situation is even more confusing when one considers the different definitions and customs of being a professor in different countries.

    I was also told that unless granted a prof emeritus or personal honorary title, the keeping of the title prof after leaving an awarding institution was a custom but not a legal entitlement.

    • I assume you mean, David, that it is customary to relinquish one’s prof title after leaving the awarding institution unless one is given an emeritus title. I think, given the circumstances of Brake’s departure from Glamorgan, that it is reasonable to assume that they did NOT give him emeritus status.

    • Also David, I see he claims he has communicated science on 5 continents, so you must be living on Antarctica if you’d never heard of him before the PhD controversy 🙂

    • I quote, from markbrake.com

      “This is the website of Mark Brake, author, broadcaster, futurist, and communicator of science.

      Mark is a freelance academic, working out of the UK, who writes popular science books, and has done science communication work in film, television, print, and radio on five continents.”

      (it bears a remarkable resemblance to his OTT wikipedia page, before editing of that was taken from his control)

      • Anyone know what a “futurist” is? Isn’t it an exponent of a particular style of 20th century art?

  10. This link still refers to him as a professor:

    About the Author
    Professor Mark Brake is an author, broadcaster and communicator of science. He is an academic, based at the University of Glamorgan, UK, who writes popular science books. Mark has done science communication work in film, television and radio on five continents, including work with NASA, Seattle’s Science Fiction Museum, and the BBC.”

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Really-Questions-About-Space-Time/dp/0753430193/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1317361430&sr=8-1

  11. Anton Garrett Says:

    If I use my PhD in theoretical physics to take a “doctor only” parking space, and verify it to a traffic warden with, say, my credit card (which does not make clear what sort of doctor I am), am I breaking the law?

    • Another interesting question, used as a legal hypothetical in the USA. If you are a Professor but go by the title Mr, are you breaking the law?

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      The Germans (of course) make all this clear by referring to “Herr Professor Doktor Schmidt” etc. Conversely, surgeons in the UK take pride in reverting from ‘Dr’ to ‘Mr’ (or the female equivalent) upon gaining their Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons.

    • “If I use my PhD in theoretical physics to take a “doctor only” parking space, and verify it to a traffic warden with, say, my credit card (which does not make clear what sort of doctor I am), am I breaking the law?”

      I would say do it and in trial chide whomever put up the sign for using “doctor” in the first place. Can’t folks just say “physician” when that is what they mean? (I have also had a couple of GPs who were good physicians but without a doctoral title.)

    • Ah clever idea not sure if you’re breaking the law though.

  12. Anton Garrett Says:

    Some of the discussion here echoes that between ‘Dominic Guzman’ (clearly a pseudonym, as the original DG was the originator of the Dominican monks) and Junder1234 at

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Mark_Brake#IOP_Status

    regarding Brake’s Fellowship of the Institute of Physics.

  13. let P be “is Professor”,
    (P = ¬P)→ P=0
    or,
    A Professor is not a Professor when Professor means nothing.

    I think.

    PS. In Germany, if you’ve been mad enough to do two PhDs you could be called Herr Professor Doktor Doktor…
    … cue Dr. Dr. jokes

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      IIRC there is a higher research degree in Germany than PhD, called a Habilitationsthesis, and you can even be “Herr Professor Doc. Hab. Schmidt”. Am I correct, Phillip?

      • Normally Professor would be abbreviated as well, so it would be Herr Prof. Dr. habil. (or Dr. rer. nat. since this is the usual scientific title—not Ph.D.). The Habilitation is generally (it varies a bit from state to state) a combination of a further degree and some teaching experience. In the old days, the thesis was a previously unpublished paper. Later, it was similar to a doctoral thesis. These days, it has effectively become optional, since announcements ask for it or “equivalent qualifications”, which is essentially what anyone applying for a professorship would be expected to have; just a doctorate is usually not enough.

        The habilitation exists or existed in several other countries besides Germany.

        Note that building up the titles into a chain is done only for official stuff; professors are normally addressed by just “Herr” (or “Frau”) by their students. (The rule is that they usually aren’t called by their first names, but that is not academic-specific but rather is the case in Germany generally. This is related to having a familiar and a formal form for the second person pronouns and verbs. The latter was, historically, “ye” or “you” in English; “thou” has become archaic. )

        One also sees “Dr. h.c.”, which is an honourary doctorate; sometimes “Dr. h.c. multi” if one has several. Note that an Honorarprofessor is not an honourary professor (that would be Ehrenprofessor), but rather someone who lectures for money without a formal appointment.

        Those with the habilitation but without a professorship often have the title Privatdozent. These days, this is just a title (which usually requires some minimal teaching to justify it). In the old days, in addition to their salaries, professors got money directly from students. Someone with a habilitation was qualified to teach, and could do so voluntarily, but got only the money from the students for teaching (though he might have a research salary etc), hence Privatdozent since the money came from the students’ private funds, not from public money. (It does not refer to someone with a job in business, industry etc who gets paid for occasional lectures at a university; this would be the Honorarprofessor discussed above.)

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Thank you Phillip. In ” Dr. rer. nat.”, what are ‘rer’ and ‘nat’ abbreviations for, please?

      • “Thank you Phillip. In ” Dr. rer. nat.”, what are ‘rer’ and ‘nat’ abbreviations for, please?”

        Doctor rerum naturalium, i.e. doctor of natural things (“natural” here in the sense of “natural philosophy”, the old name for “science”).

        It’s a redirect, but http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._rer._nat. takes you there (see the section on Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland).

      • The link needs a “.” at the end (apparently garbled by WordPress automatic link processing).

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Ah, it’s Latin – I had thought that ‘rer’ and ‘nat’ were abbreviations for still more German degrees…

      • telescoper Says:

        Res ipsa loquitur.

    • Doctor, doctor, give me the news….

  14. This is all a bit of unnecessary – Mark Brake has rightly lost his job and is now out of the higher education sector.

    I don’t know the ins and outs of the business but this blog may have contributed to Brake finally getting the push. Carrying on with this and checking up on his amazon ads looks petty.

    If one wishes to keep the story alive then it would be fairer IMO if some attention was focused on those in Glamorgan who backed him and who still occupy positions of responsibility. It doesn’t worry me that he may call himself Professor on Amazon. I am, however, concerned about governance in UK universities.

  15. Flippant comments aside, this is more than a little vindictive.

    • telescoper Says:

      ..in your opinion. In mine, it’s amazing (and not a little amusing in a black-comedy kind of sense) that he hasn’t learned his lesson. I’ve come to the conclusion that if nobody keeps an eye on him he’ll just carry on doing this sort of thing.

  16. Sure in my opinion – I’m hardly going to express anyone else’s.

    Big deal that he misrepresents himself on Amazon – I’m sure he’s no different to a whole load of other authors.

    I’m not sure why you feel the need to “keep an eye on him” – he’s incapable of causing any more damage. He’s out of the higher education sector and, if reports are to be believed, advertising his services as a tutor at Tescos. He has paid for what he did. He’s out of a job and has lost a lot prestige, something which was clearly very important to him.

    There are a lot more worthy targets to criticize than a discredited out-of-work “academic”.

    • telescoper Says:

      There’s a lot more to this story than you know about or I can blog about, but if you knew it would explain exactly why there’s a need to keep an eye on him.

      • As some of us here know, Brake caused a lot of harm to many people, directly and indirectly. Even though Brake’s guilt is now clear, some of these people—whose fate is comparable to that of Brake—received no compensation. However, for the casual reader who doesn’t know much of the background, the discussion might seem petty.

        It would help if there were some public information about the harm Brake has caused, mentioning individual people (if, perhaps, not their names).

  17. David Whitehouse Says:

    Dave, I don’t think such people are incapable of causing any more damage.

    I’ve seen, in the media, public life, politics, sometimes science, that there is a type of person, persuasive and full of undilutable self-belief, who will never give up no matter what disaster or pitfalls confound them. I don’t mean this in a positive way, we all have to pick ourselves up after problems.

    They seem to live in a different world. I’ve seen bluffers, conmen, liars and charlatans stumble from one disaster to another, one embarrassing revelation to another, sometimes with public ridicule, sometimes great finical loss and dreadful publicity, only for them to return and return again seemingly unaware of what has happened.

    What would make a normal person seek a decent obscurity is nothing to them. They’ll be back, wiping the past, blatantly exaggerating or fabricating their credentials with a new project usually aimed at a gullible arm of the media, starting the cycle again.

    In my time at the BBC I used to keep a file of ‘experts’ who had lied about their background, credentials etc. One thing that I was certain of was that those names would always keep cropping up.

  18. You sound like you’re describing Derek Draper.

  19. He makes Mark Brake look like an amateur bs merchant.

  20. At least in the colloquial sense, Nigerian/Swedish musician Dr. Alban is actually a doctor, i.e. he is a dentist with a degree and had a practice. Whether he has just the “normal” degree (sufficient—even in the UK—to open a practice) or in fact a doctoral degree (which, in medicine, is just a small add-on to the normal degree and not comparable with, say, a doctoral degree in physics), I don’t know.

    I’m still confused by Professor Brian Cox. Apparently someone officially dubbed him Professor, but I have heard from a reputable source that he doesn’t teach any university courses, which in my mind has always been a necessary (though not sufficient) condition to be a university professor.

    • telescoper Says:

      I think there are many Professors in UK universities who don’t do any teaching in the sense of undergraduate lecturing; usually in such cases they just do research.

      In the case of Brian Cox I think the University sees him as an asset because of his TV and other outreach work rather than for his research.

      There’s nothing in my contract that says I have to do teaching to be called a professor, actually. It just says I have to do what the Head of School decides I should do.

  21. Brian Cox is a puzzle perhaps. He’s co-authored (with the usual myriads of other authors usual on particle physics papers) about 15 papers, yet he is a professor!

    devalues the currency IMHO.

  22. I know not of this twitter of which you speak.

    As a particle physicist I too am amazed that Brian Cox is a prof. Not justified in terms of his academic performance.

    I think his contribution to the success of Wonders of… is overstated. The program’s main attraction is the special effects. I personally don’t like the modern documentary style of long lingering looks at the presenter.

    I am “coxed” out and frankly rather tired of seeing him. A period of less in your face would be nice.

    As a long term fan of Carl Sagan I hear his words, even phrases, in Cox’s output. To me he is copying Sagan far too closely, and I don’t think Cox has not yet showed the intellectual depth of Sagan.

    A colleague of mine at Manchester U (where Cox it is rumoured is seen occasionally, cause he lives in London) tells me that he is granted as much paid leave as he wants to do his media stuff (nice to be paid twice) because the VC says its good publicity and brings students in, which is after all what it’s all about these days. Funny that Cox attracts students to Manchester, and then they don’t see him!

    • “I am “coxed” out and frankly rather tired of seeing him. A period of less in your face would be nice.”

      Easily achieved, just don’t watch any show that he’s on.

  23. Dave Carter Says:

    I think that Manchester are also looking at the Impact agenda for the REF. I am not quite so sure how this works, as I don’t see in his
    programmes a demonstrable connection with Manchester research, at least to any greater extent than other departments’ research.

  24. The University of Glamorgan still regard him as a Prof and working on Current Projects as of 4th Oct 2011. oh dear!

    http://scicomm.research.glam.ac.uk/projects/current/

    http://scicomm.research.glam.ac.uk/projects/scholarly/

  25. Mark McCaughrean Says:

    Have come very late to this and, I’m sorry to admit, didn’t know anything about the rather shocking past history of this story.

    After having done a little bit of background research, however, I ended up at the website of “ESConet”, an apparently EC-funded network promoting science communication.

    Mr Brake seems to be a “trainer” for the network, advertising himself via the profmbrake label still. Steve Miller from UCL is another trainer and in fact the network director.

    Is Steve aware of this tawdry story? Should such a network be using someone with such a chequered history, regardless of whatever other talents they may or may not bring to the table?

  26. Sam@glam Says:

    not sure if anyone will bother with this thread anymore or is even still interested but mark brake was the tip of the iceberg at glamorgan, i’m a current student carrying out investigations and let me tell you the corruption is deep seated!

    Many claims and investigations are ignored or actively brushed under the carpet in order to cover up frauds and cheats which are still happening.

    i study on the current follow up course to the course mark started and its no better let me tell you…

    i can elabourate if people wish i’m just not sure anybody is still following this thread. do let me know if you are interested.

    P.S. me and my fellow student, my friend, intend on making all of it public knowledge and possible take the corruption down if we can

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