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”?

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.

Brake Thread

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 26, 2009 by telescoper

Following my post yesterday, the thread of comments relating to the Mark Brake/University of Glamorgan fraud scandal has been removed from the Times Higher story. However, I was logging the thread until very near the end (in fact, until my own  last comment this morning shortly before the comments were closed). I have posted them on a permanent page here to preserve them, but the page is currently offline pending clarification of copyright issues.

I have no idea why the comments were deleted, but I hope it is a sign that the University of Glamorgan is finally investigating this matter. If they are, I expect this matter to reach a speedy conclusion. If not, I will keep you posted on further developments with this and other matters in due course.

I’ve decided to reduce the amout of blogging I do over the next few days to catch up on paper-writing and a few other things, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing if story stays at the top of the page for now.

The Mark Brake Story

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 25, 2009 by telescoper

I’m quite surprized to find myself posting yet another item about this story over a month after I originally mentioned it, but after the events of the last few days I really don’t feel like letting it drop.

In case you missed the story first time, Professor Mark Brake (he of the absurdly glowing wikipedia page) falsely represented his qualifications when applying for a research grant in 2006. For some reason, his employer – the University of Glamorgan – did not take the appropriate action of dismissing him for gross misconduct, but instead sacked the person responsible for drawing it to their attention. These 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 ago.

The reason for posting about it again is that the Times Higher article is attracting a truly phenomenal number of comments (nearly 600 at the last count). These, roughly speaking, divide into two camps. The first set (including 4 comments by myself under my own name) comprises comments from people dismayed by the fact that Professor Brake’s misconduct appears not to have been investigated properly by the UoG and suggestions that this episode will reflect badly on academia generally unless  it can be sorted out promptly.

The second camp appears to consist of a small number of individuals posting abusively mocking comments under a variety of silly pseudonyms who are clearly attempting to draw attention away from the allegations against Professor Brake. It seems to me to be a very high probability that the culprit himself is behind many of the more absurd comments on the thread. I have been informed by someone working for the University of Glamorgan that Brake has been expressly forbidden to comment on this story, but that the UoG has taken no steps whatsoever to investigate whether he is doing so. In the meantime, contrary to promises made by their press contact to the THES, the UoG  have not yet made any attempt investigate the original misconduct. To quote from a comment I put on the thread myself:

I wish I shared the confidence of some other posters in the willingness of the UoG to treat this matter with appropriate seriousness. I think it is more likely that their “investigation” involves keeping their eyes firmly closed and not opening them unless and until a third party drops a load of direct evidence on their head. The longer they continue to ignore the ongoing misconduct of their own employees, including their abusive posts on this thread, the further the reputation of the University of Glamorgan is tarnished.

Since I revealed that I  that passed the Wales Online story onto the Times Higher, a number of things have happened which I can’t comment on for legal reasons. These events have left me very doubtful that the University of Glamorgan intends to investigate this matter at all and wishes instead that it will all blow over.

Of course readers of this blog can form their own opinions about the importance of this case and/or my interpretation of the facts but, based on what I know, I have drawn the conclusion that it is very important that this matter is not allowed to fade away. For one thing, the professorial salary of this individual is funded by the taxpayer….

I therefore intend to keep posting comments on the THES in support of academic standards and against academic misconduct until something is done. I invite any readers that agree with me to post their comments on the THES thread.

If representatives of the University of Glamorgan or any individual or organization feels I have misrepresented any aspect of this case or if you disagree with me for any other reason, or simply wish to comment, please feel free to express your thoughts through the box below.

STOP PRESS: The Times Higher appears to have closed the thread on this story for reasons not explained. You may still comment here of course.

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….