The impact agenda and academic publishing in Australia

The Australian government is currently considering scrapping entirely the use of academic research outputs as a determinant of university block grant funding in favour of a measure based on non-academic ‘impact’ with industry collaborators. In general, I am a big fan of the ‘impact agenda’ – the idea that publicly funded universities should explicitly and accountably articulate their research towards non-academic benefits, whether economic, social, or cultural.  The Australian interpretation of this seems to be veering towards a very narrow definition of impact in primarily economic terms and oriented primarily towards the private sector.  My concern in this piece, however, is the effect that radically devaluing academic publications would have on Australia’s higher education sector.  Put simply, I think there is a very clear case to be made that this would have a significant deleterious effect on Australian universities’ international standing, with consequent knock-on effects on the country’s ability to recruit high quality academics and international students alike. Continue reading

What else should social science learn from the faked Science study on gay marriage?

The Stanford political scientist Donald Green has retracted a paper from Science co-authored with a graduate student after the student failed to produce the raw data when concerns emerged over the project.

Columbia’s Chris Blattman – whose blog I highly recommend as a great source of insights on development, conflict, social science, and the occasional cracking gag – is of the opinion that there is not much that social science can learn from this case. I am not so sure. Continue reading

The Answer is Blowing in the Wind: Lomborg on Renewable Energy Subsidies


This post was written, along with a previous post, in the context of the University of Western Australia’s decision to accept $4 million of federal funding for an Australian Consensus Centre built around the work of the controversial public intellectual Bjorn Lomborg. Since I completed the initial draft, UWA has decided to rescind the centre and return the funds, citing the widespread opposition to the centre among staff at the University.

Given this decision, I had initially thought not to publish this post. I have decided, however, to do so after all. My main reason for this is that in certain sections of the Australian media and the wider public debate, opposition to the Centre has been portrayed as the ideological hysteria of a closed club of humanities academics who ostracise and demonise anyone who fails to follows their left-wing orthodoxy. I hope that these posts go some way towards demonstrating that concern over Lomborg’s credentials is not mere ideology but the outcome of serious engagement with his output, on his own terms. Continue reading

Lomborg’s Electric Dreams

Context The University of Western Australia has recently accepted A$4 million to set up an ‘Australian Consensus Centre’ under the auspices of Bjorn Lomborg (Update: Since writing this post, UWA has cancelled the contract, citing widespread staff opposition). Lomborg is a public intellectual known for developing a cost-benefit approach to major global challenges and producing results that often downplay the relative importance of action on climate change. He is, undoubtedly, a bête noire for some climate activists. But in the interest of benefit of the doubt, I decided to try to take an impartial look at his work. I will blog later on the methodology of his ‘Consensus Center’ approach. This blog is the result of a careful reading and ‘fact checking’ of a recent op-ed Lomborg wrote USA Today on electric cars. Continue reading

A Modest Defence of Citation Metrics

The ongoing review and consultation by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on of the use of metrics in the REF process has reinvigorated a wider debate over research metrics more generally. A thorough critique authored by Meera Sabaratnam and Paul Kirby has set the academic blogosphere alight.  While they raise important points, however, I would offer a modest defence of the use of metrics in research evaluation. Continue reading