Archive for Mark Brake

When is a Professor not a Professor?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 29, 2011 by telescoper

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”?

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Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 63

Posted in Astronomy Lookalikes with tags , on September 25, 2011 by telescoper

I’m struck by the remarkable similarity between “author and science communicator” Mr Mark Brake (alias “@ProfMBrake”  on Twitter) and Mr Mark  Brake the disgraced former University of Glamorgan employee who falsely claimed to have a PhD when applying for a grant in 2006 and whose professorship at Glamorgan was terminated in mysterious circumstances in 2010. Old habits clearly die very hard…

Professor Yes?

Dr No

Astronomy Look-alikes, No. 31

Posted in Astronomy Lookalikes with tags , , on June 19, 2010 by telescoper

I’m struck by the fact that “Dr” Mark Brake looks very much like actor Antony Sher, one of whose most celebrated roles was as Howard Kirk in the BBC TV adaptation of a certain novel by Malcolm Bradbury..

The former "History Man"

The former "Astronomy Man"

Among the Crachach

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , on June 6, 2010 by telescoper

Catching up on the news by looking through my copy of last week’s Times Higher, I came across an account of a speech made by Welsh Assembly Minister Leighton Andrews about the Future of Higher Education in Wales. I mentioned this was coming up in an earlier post about the state of the Welsh university system, but wasn’t able to attend the lecture. Fortunately, however the text of the lecture is available for download here.

There is some discussion of positives  in the speech, including a specific enthusiastic mention of

the involvement of the School of Physics and Astronomy in the international consortium which built the Herschel Space Observatory.

I was pleased to see that, especially since much of the rest of it is extremely confrontational. Much of it focusses on the results of a recent study by accountants PriceWaterhouseCooper that revealed, among other things, that  52% of the funding provided by the Welsh Assembly Government for higher education goes on adminstration and support services, with only 48% to teaching and research. Mr Andrews suggests that about 20% of the overall budget could be saved by reducing duplication and introducing shared services across the sector.

I can’t comment on the accuracy of the actual figures in the report, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were correct.  They might shock outsiders to the modern higher education system but most universities – not just those in Wales – seem to employ at least as many administrative staff and support staff as “front-line” teachers and researchers. I’m likewise sure that the Welsh Assembly employs many more such staff than there are Members…

Within academic Schools we need to employ staff to handle financial matters, student records, recruitment, admissions,  and general day-to-day administration. On top of that we have technical staff, to support both research and teaching laboratories as well as computing support staff. Add them all together and you definitely have a number comparable to the number of academic staff,  but  they don’t account for 52% of our salary bill because they are generally paid less than lecturers and professors. The mix in our School is no doubt related to the specific demands of physics and astronomy, but these staff all provide essential services and if they weren’t there, the academic staff would have to spend an even greater part of their time doing such things themselves.

As well as the staff working in individual Schools there are central administrative departments (in Cardiff they’re called “directorates”) which don’t employ academics at all. I have no idea what fraction of Cardiff’s budget goes on these things, but I suspect it’s  a big slice. My own anecdotal experience is that some of these are helpful and efficient while others specialise in creating meaningless bureaucratic tasks for academic staff to waste their time doing. I think such areas are where 20% savings might be achievable, but that would depend on the University having fewer and less complicated “initiatives” to respond to from the WAG.

The Times Higher story discusses the (not entirely favourable) reaction from various quarters to Mr Andrews speech, so I won’t go into it in any more detail here.

However, I was intrigued by one word I found in the following paragraph

 I was interested to learn recently that some members of university governing bodies have been appointed on the basis of a phone call. Who you know not what you know. It appears that HE governance in post devolution Wales has become the last resting place of the crachach.

Crachach? Being illiterate in the Welsh language this was a new one on me. However, I found an article on the BBC Website  that revealed all.

The term used to denote local gentry but 21st century crachach is the Taffia, the largely Welsh-speaking elite who dominate the arts, culture and media of Wales and to a lesser extent its political life.

It goes onto say

The Vale, Pontcanna and Whitchurch are crachach property hotspots while barn conversions in Llandeilo and cottages in Newport, Pembrokeshire, provide weekend retreats.

Hang on. Pontcanna? That’s where I live! I wonder if they let foreigners join the crachach, provided of course they learn the Welsh language? I note however that “arts culture and the media” is their remit, so science apparently doesn’t count. Perhaps I could start a scientific wing? Maybe those Welsh lessons will be useful after all. I’m told that the crachach always manage to get tickets for the big rugby matches…

On a more serious note, however, that part of Leighton Andrews’ speech stressed the importance of university governance. If he’s true to his word he should look into the Mark Brake affair. I think the taxpayers of Wales have a right to know what’s been going on.

Brake Out

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on April 7, 2010 by telescoper

You may recall that I’ve posted a few times about Mark Brake, the professor at the University of Glamorgan who falsely claimed to have a PhD on a grant application written in 2006 (see, for example,  here, here, and here). The UoG purportedly held an  “investigation” into this matter, but took no disciplinary action against Brake. When the story resurfaced again last year, first in the Western Mail and then in the Times Higher, the University of Glamorgan kept very quiet about why it hadn’t taken this case more seriously in the first place, but promised a further investigation into the actions taken at the time.

Things have been very quiet on this front for quite some time now, but I recently heard from a reliable source that Mark Brake has been made redundant by the University of Glamorgan (as of March 31st 2010).  If this is a result of an investigation into past wrongdoings then  clearly the UoG have decided to let Brake go quietly rather than make any of the evidence public. I have no information about the redundancy settlement but, whatever it is, it is largely funded by the taxpayer, as his salary has been for the past three years, since the original investigation exonerated him. Of course, if the UoG did uncover evidence that was overlooked in 2007 then it would be extremely embarrassing to have to admit it three years later…

The UoG remains quiet about the affair which – at least to me – casts grave doubts on its system of governance. They seem to want this case to disappear quietly, but I don’t think it is in the public interest to let the circumstances of Brake’s departure remain secret. At the very least I hope they make an official announcement confirming that he has left the organisation, otherwise his famous wikipedia page will  forever state that he is an employee of the UoG.

The University of Glamorgan website doesn’t say anything about the Mark Brake affair. However, there is an announcement about the new Wales Fraud Forum which will meet there for the first time later this month. Who said irony was dead?

Truth, Lies and Wikipedia

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 19, 2010 by telescoper

I think it’s time to post a brief update on the story of Mark Brake, a Professor at the University of Glamorgan who falsely claimed to have a PhD from Cardiff University when applying for a grant in 2006. After this came to light through a story in the Western Mail, it was covered in the Times Higher, and I also blogged about it here.

There’s relatively little I can say about what’s been going more recently on in connection with this story, for reasons of confidentiality. However, one thing I am allowed say in public that Professor Mark Brake is no longer a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, a status he acquired in 2008.  I’m not allowed to discuss the events leading up to, or the reasons behind, his decision to resign from the IOP, but he did so in January 2010.

That little bit of news hardly merits an entire blog post, but what’s interesting is the subsequent behaviour of the wikipedia editors. Mark Brake’s wikipedia page currently states:

He was elected as a Fellow of the Institute of Physics in 2008[1] and is presently Director of the Science Communication Research Unit at Glamorgan.

As soon as Brake creased to be a FInstP, the IOP Director of Membership and Business, John Brindley, edited the page to make it clear that he no longer held the Fellowship. Bizarrely, however, a wikipedia editor overruled the change and the text reverted to the above form. The editor says that this “leaves open the possibility that this may no longer be the case”.

Well, it may leave open that possibility but the implication of the above form is definitely that Brake remains a Fellow. As John Brindley himself wrote on the corresponding wikipedia discussion page

there is a well established and understood convention that memebrships of professional institutions is considered as continuous from the date of election unless or untl a date of resignation or removal is given.

However, the editor has refused to budge on the grounds that

Other than your comments here, which unfortunately can’t be considered to be a reliable source according to wikipedia rules, I can find nothing to indicate that he has, in fact, resigned.

Short of putting an announcement on their webpages that Brake has resigned his Fellowship – something that is contrary to their usual practice – there doesn’t seem to be anything the IOP can do to convince wikipedia to amend this page so it says the whole truth, rather than just a partial and potentially misleading version.

And while I’m on the subject of potentially misleading statements, it is perhaps worth going back to the original grant application that started this whole affair off. I showed part of this in a previous post, but here is the whole page showing the false claim of a PhD:

Under Professional Qualifications you will see Brake lists professional connections with the Royal Society of Chemistry as well as a Fellowship of the Royal Astronomical Society. This was written in 2006. In fact Brake disappeared from the membership register for the Royal Society of Chemistry in 1993 and ceased to be a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1994. Hmmm…

You might argue – as the editor seems to be doing in the case of the wikipedia page – that these aren’t factually incorrect in that they give the year of election but say nothing about whether his tenure may or may not have ended.  I think most academics would agree with John Brindley, however, that the convention is to give a date of termination if the qualification no longer applies, otherwise the implication is that the status is unchanged.

Seeing further pieces of misleading information on the grant application doesn’t really surprise me, but I find it strange that somebody seems to want wikipedia’s pages  to misrepresent the truth in a similar fashion.

Commented out

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on December 3, 2009 by telescoper

Interesting. Very interesting.

You may recall that a few days ago, the Times Higher closed the comments section on their story about Mark Brake, the University of Glamorgan Professor who falsely represented his credentials on a grant application in 2006 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 might be lost when the Times Higher closed them so I posted them on this blog. I took them offline a bit later because I was worried about possible copyright infringement, but also made several copies which I have lodged in various places for safekeeping.

When I got back home yesterday I spent a bit of time catching up on blog administration and found that the page of Times Higher comments (which was still on my wordpress space, but not available to the public) had been marked “DO NOT REPOST – CONTACT SUPPORT”. I did so, and it was explained to me that they had received a complaint containing the following

.. this post is actually a repost of an entire conversation held on the Times Higher Education Supplement website, which was removed earlier today after the editor there decided that the contents had become too abusive, and was in breach of not only their own sites rules against defamation and liable, but also in breach of several telecommunications acts here in the UK as well as consituting an invasion of privacy into the lives of several people.

Since the Times Higher hadn’t given a reason for deleting the comments thread on its own site, I asked them whether these indeed were the reasons they had removed them and whether they had made this complaint. I suspected not, as for one thing I was sure that employees of  said organ would be able to spell “libel” correctly. Had they – or anyone else – approached me directly with a  good reason I would have been happy to remove them. As it happens nobody contacted me personally about this, and I was a bit annoyed at the underhand way that it was done. Not the only underhand thing that has happened recently in connection with this story.

I received a reply from Phil Baty, one of the editors of the THES, who confirmed that they had decided to close the thread after “complaints” but had not made any approach about my use of the THES comments on this site. He also  stated that

the decision to close the thread should not be taken as any judgement on our part on the behaviour of any individual who posted.

The anonymous complainant thus seems to have deliberately misrepresented the situation to WordPress in order to suppress the contents of my blog page. Sneaky.

Neither WordPress nor the Times Higher would reveal the identity of the complainant, but I can guess. I surmise this was done by an individual anxious to hush up this story and to conceal his identity. I wonder who that might be?

Anyway, the main point of this post is to reassure those at the University of Glamorgan responsible for disciplinary matters that the abusive comments posted on the THES  have not been lost so there’s no reason to give up their investigation into the ongoing serious misconduct of its employees. I’d be delighted to hand over the information if they request it as part of their no doubt strenuous efforts to root out those responsible for bringing their name into disrepute.

I’m sure the University of Glamorgan would have been very upset if  such important evidence of ongoing wrongdoing had been lost so I am happy to be able to allay their fears.

Perhaps the University of Glamorgan might also like to establish whether any of its employees used a deliberate falsehood to persuade WordPress to suppress this evidence? Shouldn’t be too difficult.

PS. I note the recent news that the University of Glamorgan is to get a new Vice-chancellor.