Archive for Researchfish

The Researchfish Saga continues

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , on May 19, 2022 by telescoper

You may recall that I blogged here and here about a software platform called Researchfish and the heavy-handed reaction response to criticism by the provider of this “service”, a company called Interfolio, and the Government organization UK Research and Innovation that harvests the data thereby collected. In its response to Interfolio’s apparent misuse of data and bullying of academics who dared to express negative opinions about Researchfish – which I would say, based on my own experiences (admittedly several years ago), is a very poorly designed system – UKRI made a sort of non-apology that managed to make matters worse.

A couple of days ago, in response to a Freedom of Information request, UKRI released correspondence between itself and Infosys that shows not only that UKRI knew about the bullying by Infosys but actively encouraged it. The story is covered in full by Research Professional so I shall comment on briefly here.

Here’s an example from UKRI which talks about taking “disciplinary” action against someone for criticizing Researchfish on Twitter (even though they subsequently apologized and deleted the tweet) and goes on to list their grant awards, presumably in order to facilitate sanctions against the individual:

Here’s another that claims that bullying by Researchfish “set the right tone”:

Unbelievable. I bet the redacted bits are even worse!

It’s a shocking indictment of the culture at UKRI that they are prepared to behave in such a way, conniving in threats against the community it is supposed to be supporting. Moreover, Interfolio seems to be keener to police comments about Researchfish than it is to make improvements to its service. It can’t be healthy for researchers in the UK to have their freedom of speech stifled to protect a software company’s reputation.

The brevity and informality of the emails between UKRI and Infotech suggests they have a very cosy relationship. Does anyone know anything about the tendering process by which Interfolio acquired its contract with UKRI?

The Researchfish Scandal

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , on April 19, 2022 by telescoper

You may remember that about a month ago I posted a piece about the scandalous behaviour of the people who operate Researchfish – the execrable software system intended to collect data relating to the outputs of research grants funded by the various UK Research Councils.  The scandal consisted of bullying of researchers who dared to criticize mighty Researchfish followed by an atrocious non-apology when challenged about their conduct.

Well now today UKRI (UK Research and Innovation, the umbrella organization for the Research Councils) has stepped in, with the result that the scandal has now deepened.

UKRI issued a statement which begins by claiming Researchfish acted in response to “abusive” tweets. The tweets I have seen were by no means abusive so that’s a very poor start. More importantly however, the “update” doesn’t deal at all with the substantive issues raised, namely the sinister threat to communicate researchers’ personal information to UKRI. I have always thought that Researchfish would be better off trying to engage with the research community to improve its system, especially the awful user interface, than threatening the people who criticize it but it now seems the situation is even worse than I originally thought.

According to a story in Research Fortnight, “UK Research and Innovation has admitted it (my emphasis) encouraged Researchfish to report some tweets from academics to it, after enraged researchers criticized the online service for doing this last month”. UKRI goes on to say that they have “stopped this approach with immediate effect and recognize that it was the wrong thing to do”. Damn right it was wrong, but I wonder who made the decision to do it in the first place, and what sanction they will face?

There is also this:

We understand that this has raised questions around personal data. We take data protection very seriously. Our assessment of the data protection considerations is ongoing and is expected to be concluded shortly.

I rather think this calls for an independent inquiry but, although I fear a whitewash is in progress, let’s see wait and see…

On Researchfish

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Maynooth, Science Politics with tags , on March 18, 2022 by telescoper

One of the things I definitely don’t miss about working in the UK university system is the dreaded Researchfish. If you’ve never heard of this bit of software, it’s intended to collect data relating to the outputs of research grants funded by the various Research Councils. That’s not an unreasonable thing to want to do, of course, but the interface is – or at least was when I last used it several years ago – extremely clunky and user-unfriendly. That meant that once a year along with other academics with research grants (in my case STFC) I had to waste hours uploading bibliometric and other data by hand. A sensible system would have harvested this automatically as it is mostly available online at various locations or allowed users simply to upload their own publication list as a file; most of us keep an up-to-date list of publications for various reasons (including vanity!) anyway. Institutions also keep track of all this stuff independently. All this duplication seems utterly pointless.

I always wondered what happened to the information I uploaded every year, which seemed to disappear without trace into the bowels of RCUK. I assume it was used for something, but mere researchers were never told to what purpose.

When I left the UK in 2018 to work full-time in Ireland, I took great pleasure in ignoring the multiple emails demanding that I do yet another Researchfish upload. The automated reminders turned into individual emails threatening that I would never again be eligible for funding if I didn’t do it, to which I eventually replied that I wouldn’t be applying for UK research grants anymore anyway so there. Eventually the emails stopped.

Now, four years later, it seems the software is no better. That’s not surprising as since everyone has to use it on threat of excommunication there is no incentive to improve it.

Yesterday I noticed on Twitter – not for the first time – an academic complaining about Researchfish. It was however the first time I saw this sinister reply from the company that runs the system:

I’m out of the UK system for good, so I can say what I think. To put it mildly I don’t think this response is at all appropriate. Researchfish would be better off trying to engage with the research community to improve its system, especially the awful user interface, than threatening the people who criticize it.

(And there are other software providers, you know…)

Update; unbelievably, with this crass “apology” they’ve made matters even worse!

Update: “ResearchfishGate” has now been covered by Research Professional and the Times Higher.

And now here’s their second attempt at an apology:

Apart from the very weird prose style, I’ve yet to see much evidence for what is claimed in the second paragraph…