Intellectual Evolution of Russia: Descent with Modification

Duma member Igor Igoshin allegedly earned his economics degree by turning someone else’s paper on the Russian chocolate industry into a thesis on meat; the dissertation replaced every mention of “chocolate” with “beef,” “dark chocolate” with “home-grown beef,” and “white chocolate” with “imported beef.” All numbers, charts, and analysis were preserved in their original form. More recently, Dissernet revealed that an oncologist named Yuri Tsarapkin had handed in a medical article about breast cancer that was adapted—data and all—from someone else’s paper on stomach cancer. That paper, which was presented as a study of human subjects, turned out to have been plagiarized from yet another source: a study of cancer in dogs and rats.

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UD thanks Jeff.

The Italian University System: A Brief Update

La Sapienza, Rome’s most prestigious university, is plagued by favoritism. In 2010, a third of the faculty counted close family members among their colleagues. Even university admissions are tainted by corruption: Two years ago, a box of university entrance exams at the University of Bari was tampered with before the test, leaving many skeptical of the fairness of the exam. This leaves the education and careers of young Italians up to a corrupt and nepotistic system…

In an interview with Brown Political Review, Beppe Severgnini, one of Italy’s leading journalists, explained that the main issue young people face in their education is a total lack of accountability. “It’s not even possible to translate this word [accountability] into Italian,” Severgnini joked, describing the way that faculty in Italian universities can treat their jobs and obligations with minimal care and face few consequences. Italian students lacking family connections must become independent and resourceful. “In a perverse manner, in those universities it becomes a sort of natural selection,” he said. “I’ve taught in the US, where, whether you’re a better student or a weaker student, there’s a wave that brings everyone out.” But once these talented students make it through the system, many of them leave — particularly those who have already made the jump from the South to the North, where the quality of higher education tends to be higher. “I call it the ‘triple jump,’” Severgnini said. “So they go from Palermo to Rome to Berlin. Or Bari to Torino to Boston. Bang; bang; bang.”

“[I]n a section of her thesis about the characteristics of stem cells, [Haruko Obokata, a now-disgraced Japanese stem cell researcher] had cut and pasted long passages from the National Institutes of Health Web site… Obokata says that she was hurrying to finish her thesis before the deadline, and accidentally bound and submitted a draft rather than the final version. But [a fellow scientist] says that when he confronted her about the plagiarism she said that it was common at Waseda [University], and that a faculty member had told her that no one reads the theses anyway.”

A long New Yorker essay about madly proliferating stem cell research fraud reminds us of PhD protocols at some of the world’s prominent universities:

Cut – Paste – Pass Without Reading

The “Hell to Rhodes”…

… was paved with good intentions.

But no.

Wow. If it’d happened here, at least one person would’ve had a gun and killed him.

Pulendrarasa, [a] French national of Srilankan Tamil origin, raised some questions regarding what was done during Chennai floods, at [a] seminar held at [the University of Madras] recently.

He was beaten up by a few professors and staffs of the University.

“Mr Tomar responded that the university had not denied that he was a student and that ‘there are so many students they could have forgotten.'”

Delhi’s law minister didn’t fake his law degree; his law school simply can’t remember him.

Remembrances of students killed at Garissa University…

… are here.

Cash for Flash

In May 2011, Mr UD went to Jeddah, to review an academic program at King Abdulaziz University. I remember thinking, listening to him talk about the school and Saudi Arabia, that this is arguably the weirdest country in the world. It has money, and seems to want various forms of international legitimacy (for its educational establishment, for instance). Saudi Arabia must look at rapidly progressing China and India and think I’ll have a slice of that…

Yet its deeply, absurdly, repressive culture (Mr UD described the way, as the plane touched down, every woman passenger assumed a funeral pall) makes any form of cultural progress almost impossible.

Saudi Arabia does have one university, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (its only mixed-gender university) that’s getting somewhere.

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Most countries do indeed look first at their universities as they seek a voice in the modern intellectual and scientific world; but because Saudi Arabia by definition (it not only lacks a scientific ethos; it is foundationally opposed to a scientific ethos) cannot attract or cultivate world-class intellectuals, it has tried to use its vast wealth to as it were attach academic respectability to itself.

Case in point: The same university Mr UD visited has been throwing tens of thousands of dollars a year at highly cited researchers in the US and elsewhere in order to get them to list an affiliation with King Abdulaziz University. They don’t have to go there or anything; in exchange for the money, they call themselves adjunct professors. They make contact with one or two professors on the campus; they may talk vaguely about scholarly cooperation. But really it’s about cash for flash: You give us your name, we give you $70,000 a year.

It’s also about gaming the international university ranking system:

Citations are an indicator of academic clout, but they are also a crucial metric used in compiling several university rankings. There may be many reasons for hiring highly cited researchers, but rankings are one clear result of KAU’s investment. The worry, some researchers have said, is that citations and, ultimately, rankings may be KAU’s primary aim.

Indeed a Berkeley mathematician describes his shock on seeing that “a little-known university in Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz University, or KAU, ranked seventh in the world in mathematics [in the US News and World Report rankings] — despite the fact that it didn’t have a doctorate program in math until two years ago.”

The adjunct ploy has spawned some busybusybusybusyBUSY professors:

[There’s] Jun Wang, director of the Beijing Genome Institute, whose affiliations are BGI (60%), University of Copenhagen (15%), King Abdulaziz University (15%), The University of Hong Kong (5%), Macau University of Science and Technology (5%). Should he also acknowledge the airlines he flies on? Should there not be some limit on the number of affiliations of an individual?

Take that, Morris Zapp!!

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You have to give KAU this: They understand numbers. And they understand human psychology. (As one scientist who went for the deal explained to the Berkeley guy, “It’s just capitalism.” A professor who turned down an invitation from KAU writes, in a comment on the Berkeley guy’s blog, “I got one of these invitations from King Abdulaziz University too and I said ‘No’ to it… But believe me, the offer of $72K ‘easy money’ even made me think for a minute or two before saying ‘No.’ It was tempting! Some people have children to send to school, and their salaries are not enough.”) Maybe for this alone they deserve their ranking.

And he was a terrific dancer

Comparing Adolf Hitler with Josef Stalin, [Humboldt University professor Jörg] Baberowski claimed that Hitler was not “a psychopath, he wasn’t cruel, and he tolerated no mention of the extermination of the Jews in his presence”.

This summer, Mr UD goes to Ukraine.

Western Ukraine, so don’t worry too much, to hold a civic studies summer institute.

Also on the subject of Ukraine: The country’s got its first university in exile. Most of Donetsk University has cleared out of the separatist east and moved to Vinnytsia, where students and faculty are waiting for the government to transfer the budget so they can eat. Their situation sounds rather dire.

‘The brothel attempted to conceal its activities by functioning under the guise of a “foot massage department.”‘

I think that was its mistake right there. The name gave too much away. Better choice: Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

A Polish Literary Scandal with EVERYTHING.

Sex (heterosexual and homosexual). Money (unpaid debts). Corruption (a writer nominated for a prize is apparently living with the secretary of the prize’s selection committee). Increasingly unhinged emails between the two combatants.

The ongoing story of Kinga Dunin (well-known literary journalist and Medical University of Warsaw professor) and Ignacy Karpowicz (hot young – significantly younger than Dunin – novelist) hasn’t jumped to to the English language press yet.

Basic narrative, however, is this: Dunin suddenly posted on her Facebook page a complaint that Karpowicz hadn’t repaid the $4,000 loan she’d given him; she wrote that maybe by publicizing the matter she could shame him into it.

Karpowicz responded that for some time Dunin had been allowing him to use her apartment when he was in Warsaw, and recently when she was also in the apartment she invited him to share her bed. Not wanting to make her angry, he writes, he agreed to do so. (He’s either a liar or a fool.) Eventually he fell in love with someone else and broke off the relationship with Dunin. He claims that on their last night together in her apartment, when he told her he was leaving her, she raped him.

Dunin then came back with the claim that Karpowicz threw her over for a man – a man who happens to be the secretary of the selection committee for a literary prize Karpowicz is up for.

It seems likely to UD that the story has enough intrinsic interest to show up, soon, in the New York Times. We’ll see.

Gory details here, if you happen to be fluent in Polish.

Vindictive celebrity tell-all books…

… are one of life’s great comforts, a way for millions of readers to feel reconciled to their own, more obscure, resentments. France has Valerie Trierweiler, England had Diana Spencer… and Canada currently has a former university leader, Arthur Porter, playing this important social role…

Arthur Porter? You remember. Once head of the entire McGill University hospital system, Porter will go on trial (as soon as he loses his extradition fight) for having stolen zillions of dollars from said university (massive construction project; kickbacks). He has spent his prison time in Panama profitably, penning The Man Behind the Bow Tie (Gordon Gee’s going to have to find another title for his tell-all), an attack on the cynical mercenary world which has consistently misconstrued his idealism.

UD‘s keeping an eye on Porter because she is beyond excited at the prospect of his trial, and she is truly, well, resentful that his lawyers keep unextraditing him. But…

All in good time, my little pretty — all in good time….

Venezuela and the Sacking of the Universities

Back in 2011, this blog chronicled only their attempted ideological takeover by the state.

Today, street gangs are taking over university hospitals and killing people in them.

Next week’s guest …

lecturer: Lee Joon-seok.

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