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« Donna power - Josh 131 | Main | Harrabin - an official response »
Friday
Dec022011

On monoliths

Alan Kendall, the UEA geologist whose first-year course incorporated slides taken from Climate Audit, has defended the university's reputation in the comments on my post highlighting his scepticism.

I am entering the debate now because my university (UEA) is becoming subject to unnecessary scorn being branded disparingly as "a third-rate university" or the old tag repeated that it is the "University of easy access" in this and other blogs. This derision being made by those who are incensed by a small number of UEA employees, notably in CRU

UEA is a small university, yet is ranked 3rd in the Times Higher Student Experience Survey 2011; ranks in the Top World 150 universities, in the top 100 European universities and in the top 20 UK institutions, For its size it punches considerably above its weight. I am proud to have taught there and to be associated with it.

Those who are critical of the attempts by some to curtail the type of first-year teaching I used to give also miss a very important point. It was my School (ENV) that allowed me to teach the unashamedly anti-AGW lecture in the first place. More than that I was actively encouraged by the School's Dean at the time. If you wish to find a place where academic freedom showed itself, then you couldn't do better than to quote my case in UEA, a university that to some is a den of malfeasance and thought control. I am, of course, not condoning the actions and mind set of some of my colleagues, but neither have I criticized them - and I don't intend to start now.

IIRC Paul Dennis has also spoken highly of the support he received from the authorities in the School of Environment.

No public sector body is completely monolithic, it seems.

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Reader Comments (157)

Perhaps things have changed and of course quality will vary between departments, but when I applied for university places in 1981 I put UEA as my fifth choice because everyone knew their admission standard was so low that it was a safe fallback in case you made a mess of your A Levels.

They offered me an unconditional place without interview. The grades required were two E's at A level (although to be fair that's prior to A level grade inflation in the intervening 30 years)

I exceeded my first choice entry requirements and so spent a happy 3 years rock climbing at tax payers expense at a better university. Given the topography of East Anglia you can see why it was not my first choice.

Dec 2, 2011 at 8:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

While I agree it's unfair to tar the whole Uni with the CRU brush, the shame HAS been brought on the whole place - that's the power of peer pressure. Get it shut down.

Dec 2, 2011 at 8:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

Thinking Scientist - Ditto!
It was my 5th choice in 1979, same reasons.
Maybe things have changed for the better in 30 years.

Dec 2, 2011 at 8:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterAdam Gallon

Alan Kendall's response seems perfectly reasonable to me and some of the comments on his response are a bit unkind. We should want all British universities to do well. At least UEA did not give Gaddafi's son a PhD for work done by other people!

Dec 2, 2011 at 8:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

I am, of course, not condoning the actions and mind set of some of my colleagues, but neither have I criticized them - and I don't intend to start now.

I wonder why that reminds me of this?

Dec 2, 2011 at 8:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

There are excellent people at the University of East Anglia. It is unfair to assume that the Climate Research Unit is representative for the whole university.

Dec 2, 2011 at 8:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Tol

I feel he demonstrates part of the problem with so called academics when he says he isn't going to start criticising any if his colleagues now. I mean, he has witnessed the goings on, is most likely very well aware of the games that Jones and co have played YET he remains silent.

This to me suggests that he is part of the problem at UEA.

Mailman

Dec 2, 2011 at 8:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

It's worthwhile pointing out that regardless of what you think of the CRU, the UEA is unquestionably the UK's premier institution for creative writing courses. More 1st rate novelists have come out of there over the last 30 years than anywhere else. The guest lecturers are astonishing.

Dec 2, 2011 at 8:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterZedsDeadBed

I am, of course, not condoning the actions and mind set of some of my colleagues, but neither have I criticized them - and I DON'T INTEND TO START NOW...

And that is exactly the problem isn't it?

Dec 2, 2011 at 8:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterWijnand

the UK's premier institution for creative writing courses

I admite the ability to write that without the tiniest hint of irony. Well done ZDB!

Dec 2, 2011 at 8:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

oops..."admire", not "admite"

Dec 2, 2011 at 8:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

' the UEA is unquestionably the UK's premier institution for creative writing courses.' The problem is, Zeds, that seems to be the case with CRU.

Dec 2, 2011 at 8:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterAynsley Kellow

"I am, of course, not condoning the actions and mind set of some of my colleagues, but neither have I criticized them - and I don't intend to start now."

What is this then? We lost 6 – 0, but it is not my fault because I wasn’t in goal?

If in the land of appeasement there is no room for criticism please do not complain when others fill the vacuum left by those far better positioned to comment.

The issue about which you complain is one of perception and the solution can only come from within the University.

May I therefore respectfully suggest, Geologist, heal thyself?

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

When it comes to creative wilting courses at The University of Easy Access all one has to do is read Edward Acton's submission to the Science and Technology Committee of the house of commons.

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnoneumouse

For once, ZBD is right. UEA creative writing is second to none. Malcolm Bradbury's dept there helped many great authors, including Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Interestingly, Bradbury styled the University in his wonderful satirical novel 'The History Man' (1975) on the UEA campus. The Uni in that book it is a hot-bed of lunatic political correctness and posturing Marxist clap-trap.

Hmmm...

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-record

@ThinkingScientist

As someone who did make a mess of their A Levels ( this is the mid-1980s) and ended up at a Poly, I should really point out that getting an offer of two Es, without an interview, meant that your school was pretty confident of you passing your exams with higher grades. Universities at that point set great store by the references from the schools.
I thought long and hard about applying to UEA, because Selina Sott went there. I applied instead to Hull, because Sarah Greene ( from Blue Peter ) was an alumni and in the faint hope that all the girls there would be like her.

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Barrett

"unnecessary scorn"

How else can it be applied? Would contempt be better..?

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

In 1987 I put UEA as my fifth choice for Physics (as insurance, like the other posters). I was interviewed, but the offer I received was also two E's. Two E's at A-level were the minimum required to matriculate at any university in the UK.

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterOllie

UEA will unfortunately continue to bear the brunt of the ridicule. When you had that unbecoming inquiry orchestrated by Acton and the puerile questioning and answering by him and Phil Jones. And also Phil Jones unscientific behaviour which led to the contravention of a FOI request.
Their one saving grace might be the integrity shown by the whistleblower "FOIA" who might be a faculty member.

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Whale

being branded disparingly as "a third-rate university"

I would think he meant "disparagingly". Not a great advert for UEA and it's creative writing skills.

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:12 AM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

If Dr Alan Kendall's strongest argument in defence of his university is to marvel at being permitted, or even encouraged, to add some balance to the way in which AGW was taught to students, what does that say about the intellectual climate at UEA?

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterTonyN

p.s. For once I agree with ZDB.

The late WG Sebald lectured at UEA. Although I thought that he could have done with a haircut, I was greatly influenced by his Luftkrieg und Literatur: a very perceptive analysis of German writing and thinking.

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Barrett

"Those who are critical of the attempts by some to curtail the type of first-year teaching I used to give also miss a very important point. It was my School (ENV) that allowed me to teach the unashamedly anti-AGW lecture in the first place."

I presume this is past tense because they no longer provide "unashamedly anti-AGW" lectures?

Why did they stop?

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

The UEA is unquestionably the UK's premier institution for creative writing courses . . .

ZBD is absolutely correct. The roll-call of fine writers who can point with pride to their UEA roots is, of course, a tribute to the late Sir Malcom Bradbury who launched the CW course in the 1970s. As you know, Bradbury died in 2000.

One of the great novelists of campus life, he was very, very funny about academic pomposity and self-delusion. All one can say is that he is greatly missed.

My personal favourite is "Doctor Criminale" - the eponymous character is almost as funny as Dr Phil Jones. (Are you there, Phil Jones's mum? You should be proud of the lad!) See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_Bradbury

http://www.malcolmbradbury.com/index.html

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterDaveB

It is certainly true tha UEA has the best Creative Writing course by a country mi,e and should be justifiably proud of what it's achieved. Why they felt the need to set another one up in the CRU it's difficult to imagine.

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:21 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

"Why did they stop?"

Alan Kendall retired.

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:23 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

'but neither have I criticized them '

And there is the problem see far to often , the idea that you can't or should not criticize the poor behavior of others at the university no matter what they do . Ironically its the exact opposite to the view they hold of there students work where they expect to criticize them for such behavior.

In the end what most people are asking for is that Phil and friends as the CRU to start acting like the scientists they claim to be , rather the political advocates and self-serving buggers they are acting like. Until their fellows start to call them out CRU is going to drag down the whole of UEA,

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

It's obviously a source of pride for Alan Kendall that UEA scrapes into "the world's top 150 universities" and the UK's top 20. It does beg the question, though - if "climate change" is the biggest threat the planet has ever faced, why isn't the study of it led by Cambridge, Harvard, MIT and Oxford.

I managed a couple of modest A Levels and a mediocre engineering degree at a regional poly - and the climategate revelations lead me to the depressing conclusion that the future of the planet might lie in the hands of people like me.

Terrifying.

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgooose

steveta_uk Dec 2, 2011 at 9:12 AM

I would think he meant "disparagingly". Not a great advert for UEA and it's creative writing skills.


it's its

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:50 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

"UEA creative writing is second to none" [snip]
To Alan Kendall, the UEA geologist I would say that quite some time back, a good few of us here stated our concerns and commiserations to anyone else from the UEA presenting a degree from the UEA at a job interview! It is not fair to tar all with the same brush but I guess a few at Pen State are also having the same problem!

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete H

'UEA will unfortunately continue to bear the brunt of the ridicule. When you had that unbecoming inquiry orchestrated by Acton and the puerile questioning and answering by him and Phil Jones. And also Phil Jones unscientific behaviour which led to the contravention of a FOI request.'

Ultimately, that's the source of the real damage to UEA. I once taught at a university where an academic fraud had been committed. There was great emphasis on opening up and 'cleansing' - what in Eastern Europe is called 'lustration.' The cover-up and whitewashes are the real shame for UEA.

Dec 2, 2011 at 9:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterAynsley Kellow

[snip - venting]

Dec 2, 2011 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterDolphinhead

The misbehaviour of Jones and its other climate "scientists", so clearly revealed the emails, was bad enough, but it could have been argued that the CRU was just one rogue department.

But a university has to be judged by its leadership. The mendacity of its vice chancellor and the misconduct of its sponsored "independent enquiry", together with the university's failure to admit that anything untoward, has occurred has made it clear that the entire institution is corrupt.

Shut it down.

Dec 2, 2011 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

"I am, of course, not condoning the actions and mind set of some of my colleagues, but neither have I criticized them - and I don't intend to start now."

All sorts of evil spreads with that attitude: the twentieth century was replete with such examples, whether it be in Nazism, Communism, or sex abuse. The problem is that when people do not take a stand when the evil is nascent then it grows to the point that it becomes too much of a sacrifice to make a stand, and then it is rampant.

I'm reminded of the saying (attributed to Burke, but not in his writings):

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing"

Dec 2, 2011 at 10:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterScientistForTruth

Thanks for posting this up Bish. Its a valuable corrective for those who see everything as black or white. Well done for Mr Kendall for standing up for the UEA.

Dec 2, 2011 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterEddy

Always happy to agree with Zed when I can. (Don't get carried away!)
That creative writing course is not just the best in Europe (supposedly) at what it is tasked to do but it also has helped many to write creatively and readably in other fields.
Which, considering the current standard of English writing among the general public (including some on this thread who don't know their singulars from their plurals or their masculines from their feminines!), is quite an achievement and one we all should be thankful for.
On the main subject, it must be hard to criticise your colleagues in a field such as climate science. We see the extremists (on both sides) taking up entrenched positions but there is actually a very wide spectrum of belief and understanding. Kendall may well disagree with what some of his colleagues are saying. Does that of itself mean he's right and they are wrong? He ran a course, much to their horror, that took a different point of view. Does that of itself mean he's wrong and they are right?
Maybe we should be thankful we don't normally find ourselves in that situation.

Dec 2, 2011 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

It might be worth remembering that criticism of colleauges at your institution (unless you are specifically addressing the science) runs the risk of being charged with bringing the institution into disrepute, especially when the senior management at UEA are clearly so tied up in trying to protect CRU (which is one of their premier areas, so this is unsurprising).

Plus it is not smart to go round criticising colleagues who you may see regularly publically. Nor is it even polite.

The key point here is that UEA, like all UK universities, does allow a diversity of opinion. It is a clique with several members within CRU which seem to be horrified about this - I doubt their insistence on 'correct' or 'good' science is held by the School of Environmental Science (on the evidence above) or the University (which has sought to defend the CRU-teamsters reputations, not impose their point of view). The problem is not that CRU only promotes one point of view (it cannot do that as good students have a habit of thinking well, but on unexpected lines) but that a clique within and without CRU are seeking to control what the students at UEA and elsewhere can be taught by controlling the published science.

UEA has made mistakes and its current management have failed to address clear issues, being more concerned with trying to manage reputation. But this does not mean it cannot teach well, and it does not mean that we should expect UEA academics to engage in public, non-scientific (although since there were clear scientific differences even within CRU, that is a different area) attacks on colleagues.

Dec 2, 2011 at 10:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterWatchman

Watchman sorry but such insults as the 'reviews ' would not be possible without the higher up's in UEA allow it . Your said it yourself CRU has high value in that is can brings in funds and we have seen with Penn State how that can lead to a blind eye being turned to certain people behavior. But just as with them there is price to pay for such an approach and if CRU falls it will effect the rest of UEA , which may explain why they have acted has they have on these 'reviews' .
And that will be largely due to the inaction of those within UEA management that allowed the tail to wag the dog. Sympathy for the students yes , but for the eyes closed , ears covered , mouth shut UEA management not a bit .

Dec 2, 2011 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterKnR

This is precisely the issue, nobody has the guts to stand, but to be fair, with the abominable way these scientists have conducted themselves, setting out to wreck a colleague's career just to silence decent. As a professional man, if I were to be seen to be doing such things I would be hauled before a Professional Conduct Committee to explain myself, & could even be struck off if found guilty! Structural Engineers' Code of Conduct rules forbid such behaviour, however climate scientists are a different breed it seems!

Dec 2, 2011 at 10:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

UEA was my last choice in 1965; it had a physics department then.

Dec 2, 2011 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Surely, it is his duty to criticise. Maybe not criticise his colleagues, but most certainly criticise the behaviour that would curtail academic freedom and thought.


For evil to prosper all it requires is for good men to do nothing.

Dec 2, 2011 at 10:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

In 1967 the Chess team from a small Public School in Suffolk played the UEA Chess team on their campus. It was in a lecture room used last for a Philosophy class judging by the stuff on the blackboard. Comprised of mostly Lower Sixth and Upper Fifth formers we demolished them. It didn't make it onto my list of places to apply to for Electrical Engineering.

Dec 2, 2011 at 10:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterChris B

The only way to fix UEA's issues are to remove the rot. Completely.

Dec 2, 2011 at 10:48 AM | Unregistered Commentercedarhill

The problem with not criticising work colleagues is it is identical to supporting them. All scientists are going to effected by the llater fallout from CAGW, and rightly so if they are not criticising the current completely unscientific (but very political) environment.

I think many people on this blog are coming at the issue in a 'this is obviously not science' manner and are extremely concerned by what will come of science after this as well as the ridiculous policy decisions being made on the back of this non-science.

Dec 2, 2011 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

My, my, how quickly it becomes evident to me that hitherto I was wise to refrain from blogging. By trying to defend UEA as an institution I only gave opportunities for further attack .

First a needed correction. It is alleged that I used Climate Audit material in my teaching materials. Upon reviewing this material I find not a single instance of illustrations from that estimable site (sorry Steve). Instead most came from Watts up with That or from JoNova's excellent site.

1) I choose not to add to the criticism heaped upon some of my colleagues; in my judgement this would add little - I'm sure that they are fully aware of my opinion of them. To refrain from adding to their woes is my right and those of you who choose to question my motives here only shine a light on their own predjuces.
2) I have criticised from within, but mine was almost alone voice and easily ignored. I have always been concerned about the fallout from Climategate, for the university's good name (which in many respects it fully deserves) but advice I offered was ignored - as is its right to do so.
3) I still teach part-time at UEA, and still ask students to question the evidence about AGW for themselves - but not to first years students anymore. I never preached an anti AGW message (how could I, I don't have a grounding in climate science) instead I showed students evidence and argument they were not hearing and asked them to draw their own conclusions - FROM ALL OF THE EVIDENCE.

I am trully astounded by the attacks on myself and from people I would previously have considered to on the same side of the fence.

I am also appalled by the rightious indignation expessed by some respondants. As if they have a god-given right to criticize and further to suggest/ insist upon the wholesale destruction of an institution on the basis that some of its actions offend.

Lesson learned

Apologies from my typos and spelling. Latter never my strong suite and always believed the old saying that poor spelling a sign of intelligence. Perhaps too much reliance upon "spellchecker" in recent years.

Dec 2, 2011 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered Commenter'@lanK

Broad brush generalisation is the cornerstone of pseudo-intellectual reasoning. Rather, we prefer directed, specific criticism where deserved, and also credit where it's due. The CRU is not all of UEA, and UEA is not apparently epitomised by the CRU. I'm glad to see this discussion play out as it is doing - but I knew it would, and is why BH is the first blog I visit in the morning.

It's tempting to express frustration with the UEA for the CRU's cancerous anti-scientific practices, most particularly when these practices are supported so publicly by those in charge - Edward Acton being the most blatant and flagrant - but I hope that Alan Kendall can also recognise that, when Acton defends the things we all know are wrong, and when Acton holds the position he does at UEA, there is at least good cause for suspicion of the institution he heads.

Being interested in, and led by, observational evidence, we base our understanding on the things we see and understand. And the culture that we see being supported and defended at and by the UEA - the defence of the indefensible, concealment of data and methodology, obstruction of enquiring minds and the clearly illegal obstruction of lawful FOI requests - are things we see and things we understand very well.

If someone has liver cancer, they are ill. Their lungs may be fine, their kidneys doing a great job.. but they are ill. Similarly, the UEA has an academic cancer in its CRU, and its UEA "head" is pretending that this isn't a problem needing to be addressed. It is not healthy to pretend that a cancer is not present, or will go away if it is ignored. If I knew my BEST friend had cancer, I would urge treatment. I would suspect that the cancer had spread to the rest of his body, including his brain, if he refused to recognise it or seek an effective course of treatment for it - because NOT doing would be idiotic. Much of the derision of the UEA that has been expressed here is an equivalent frustration at the stupefying idiocy which is heading up a university which is ill but which could, if it chose, seek an effective treatment. Instead we see it defending and protecting its own cancer.

Dec 2, 2011 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

KnR
I'm having trouble thinking this through so I hope everyone will forgive me if I get it wrong.
The argument that CRU brings funding into the university makes sense. It might be that several "sins" (minor ones, one hopes) could be forgiven on that basis.
But what does this funding pay for? If it's enough to fund most of the Environmental Sciences department then it poses the question: Am I (the taxpayer) dipping into my pocket to fund climate research only to have the university use the money for other purposes?
If it is dedicated solely to climate research then, on the current available evidence, how does the university benefit? Its reputation is under threat. It has several (arguably) renegade scientists who have (perhaps) been playing fast and loose with data in an attempt to bolster pre-conceived positions.
By closing down this particular section the university is no worse off unless climate research income>climate research expenditure in which case there is something wrong and can I have my money back?
Answers on a postcard ...

Dec 2, 2011 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

Ok, I took it from your statement that you hadn't criticised them at all. Thanks for clearing that up...and yes, I believe that it would have been a very lonely exercise for you to be criticising these guys at school and easily dismissed by "The Team".

Thanks for clearing that up.

Regards

Mailman

Dec 2, 2011 at 11:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

@lanK

Instead most came from Watts up with That or from JoNova's excellent site

Phil Jones' blood pressure levels must be unprecedented by now.

people I would previously have considered to on the same side of the fence

If there's a fence, it's not science.

a god-given right to criticize

And I thought freedom of expression was given by law? Why can't you ignore them as others ignore you?

Dec 2, 2011 at 11:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

@Dec 2, 2011 at 10:13 AM | ScientistForTruth
///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
This is the pertinent post. I could not make the point any better myself.

In my opiniom Mr Kendall should stand up and be counted, and by so doing, in the long run, he will assist the reputation of the University he so cherrishes. .

Dec 2, 2011 at 11:19 AM | Unregistered Commenterrichard verney

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