Archive for UK Research and Innovation

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…

Doubt expressed over accuracy of measurement of the ‘Beard-Second’

Posted in Beards, Science Politics with tags , , , on September 4, 2017 by telescoper

As a practising scientist I too am concerned about the reliability of the definition of the `Beard Second’. In addition to the intrinsic variability from one individual to another (including genetic influences) many external environmental factors affect beard growth, so any definition must include conditions such as temperature, pressure, sunlight levels and whether or not the beard is supplied with nutrients. In any case the term `average’ usually applies to the arithmetic mean, whereas the quoted text seems to imply the median.

My advice to the Beard Liberation Front is to refer this matter to the National Measurement and Regulation Office for review but along with most government offices nowadays it only seems interested in issues that directly affect the ability of businesses to profit rather than safeguarding the accuracy and reproducibility of scientific matters of direct interest to the public, such as the rate of beard growth.

In the longer term, however, I believe the only way to establish a reliable standard for the `beard second’ is through an extensive research programme. A detailed proposal is in preparation to UK Research and Innovation, as it seems an appropriate topic for an interdisciplinary award.

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Doubt expressed over accuracy of measurement of the ‘Beard-Second’

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has expressed doubt over the accuracy of the unit of measurement known as the ‘Beard-Second’.

The ‘Beard-Second’ is designed to measure how quickly in time a beard grows.

According to Wiki:

The beard-second is a unit of length inspired by the light-year, but applicable to extremely short distances such as those in integrated circuits. The beard-second is defined as the length an average beard grows in one second. Kemp Bennett Kolb defines the distance as exactly 100 angstroms (10 nanometers). as does Nordling and Österman’s Physics Handbook. However, Google Calculator supports the beard-second for unit conversions using the value 5 nm.

The beard-second establishes a related unit of time, the beard-inch which is 29.4 days (or 58.8 days…

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