The pursuit of Ramsey
Nov 26, 2014
Bishop Hill in Journals

Readers will no doubt recall a very interesting thread concerning Doug Keenan's pursuit of Christopher Ramsey, an Oxford researcher whose work on radiocarbon dating has led to considerable controversy in the archaeology world, as his methods lead to much ancient history potentially having to be rewritten.

Keenan had accused Ramsey of fraud and had issued a formal complaint to the University of Oxford. However, during the discussions on the BH thread discussing the case, it turned out that at least one of the allegations was wrong.

But this has not been the end of the affair. Doug has rewritten the complaint, bringing in a new allegation that he had held back previously and has put the whole thing to the University. A detailed account of what has happened can be seen at Doug's website, but suffice it to say that a fairly thick coat of whitewash has been applied by the powers that be.

Not that this has discouraged Keenan, who ends his tale with an indication of where he is taking this next.

I asked the police to investigate Ramsey for misconduct in public office. The police declined to investigate. Their reason was that they do not think Ramsey is a public official, and so Ramsey cannot, even in principle, be guilty of misconduct in public office...

The police also informed me that the senior administrators at a university are public officials—and so potentially can be prosecuted for misconduct in public office. At the University of Oxford, the most senior administrator is the registrar, Ewan McKendrick. Given that McKendrick whitewashed the investigation into my allegation about Ramsey, would it be possible to prosecute McKendrick?

I decided to obtain legal advice on that question. Additionally, I decided that if the advice was positive, I would not report the matter to the police; instead, I would undertake a private prosecution. For that reason, I contacted a law firm specializing in private prosecutions, Edmonds Marshall McMahon. I sent the firm the following letter...

There are some very interesting questions here. Should university staff and officials be accountable to the public for their research? As Keenan points out, no less a figure than Richard Smith, the former editor of the BMJ, has posited that they should be.  Does it make any difference if the research is policy relevant? And how can one distinguish research that is dishonest from research that merely incompetent?

Popcorn time.

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