Would knowing an academic has shares in a mining company affect how much trust you place in their comments on climate change? How about if the academic sat on the board? Or owned the company? All of these are potential conflicts of interest and all might influence how much weight the media and the public place on that expert’s opinion.
Yet sadly, as a new study just published in the Medical Journal of Australia shows, actually getting hold of this information about academics at universities around Australia is often not a simple process.
The survey of Australian universities by Simon Chapman and his colleagues showed that of the 25 institutions who responded, none required their academics to state their conflicts of interest on their website profile. Perhaps more importantly, although the researchers found public comment policies for 21 universities, “none required that staff declare potential conflict of interests to media when making a public comment”.
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It’s infuriating. Here at The Punch, we regularly call all sorts of academics for their opinions on various things. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to get through.
Seriously, their phones just ring and ring and ring. And if you leave a message, good luck hearing back from them before next week. By which time the issue du jour will be well and truly fish and chip wrapping.
Why is this the case? Surely academics have fewer meetings than the rest of us. Surely they are at their desks more, right by that clunky old landline. They have mobiles too, right? With that newfangled voicemail stuff, and all.
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There’s a hidden epidemic of bullying in Australia – and it’s not in the schoolyard. The corporatisation of universities has led to an increase in students bullying their lecturers for better marks.
“It’s often the international students, whose families have sacrificed so much to send them to university,” says one lecturer in the arts and social sciences faculty at the ANU.
Dr. Janet Shepherd* admits bumping up one student’s Credit to a Distinction, because he stalked and harassed her daily via social media.
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