Archive for University of Glamorgan

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….

It’s a PhD Jim, but not as we know it…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 19, 2009 by telescoper

A story in today’s WalesOnline, originally published in the Western Mail, inspired me to add a short item to this blog.

Mark Brake is a writer and broadcaster and Professor of Science Communication at the University of Glamorgan. According to the Western Mail, in May 2006 he completed a detailed tender for the Swindon-based RCPO – a professional procurement unit that works with seven of Britain’s research councils. Allegedly, in the 26-page document, Professor Brake  claimed to hold a doctorate with the title Astrophysics: Chemical Evolution of the Galaxies, awarded by University College Cardiff, the name held by Cardiff University until 1988. He never wrote such a thesis and holds no such degree.

The article goes on to say that the application was successful, and the University of Glamorgan was awarded £285,264 for a six-month Researchers in Residence project. Surprisingly, although the University of Glamorgan has not disputed the facts in the article, it has failed to return the money.

You will find no mention of this episode on Professor Brake’s  Wikipedia page, the content of which appears nevertheless to be hotly disputed.

Professor Brake, a self-styled “astrobiologist”, declined to comment on the article, but a comment on the WalesOnline site says it all:

It’s a PhD Jim……..but not as we know it………..

POSTSCRIPT 20th October 2009

The WalesOnline story has now been amended to state that the application was not successful. I am therefore happy to retract my criticism of the University of Glamorgan for failing to return the money, and accept that they never received it.

The rest of the story remains in place.

Moreover, here is the relevant part of page 19 of the 26-page document that was submitted to the RCPO. Apologies for the slightly wonky result of the scanning. It’s not ambiguous, and I have no reason to believe that it is a forgery.  Had Mark Brake been awarded a PhD then a copy of the thesis would be in the Cardiff University library (which it isn’t) and the National Library of Wales (which it isn’t). Either this document is a forgery or Professor Brake did indeed falsely represent his qualifications in the application.brake