Saturday, 18 October 2014

Research Excellence trivialised by Universities Rankings

Bogus Universities Rankings promote Mediocrity and Worthless Value as Research Excellence

True research excellence is the product of passion and genuine scientific investigative efforts directed at purposeful outcomes in the form of “discoveries that will benefit Singaporeans and humankind globally” (Dr Tony Tan, 29 Jul 2006).   The desired goal of NTU research is “the harnessing and capturing of value” (Dr Tony Tan, 29 Mar 2007). This is our Definition of “Research Excellence”.

Singapore Universities NUS and NTU were recently ranked at the Top by 2 of the 3 major international World Universities Rankings vendors.  One is THE (Times Higher Education) World University Rankings. The other which placed NTU at the Very Top of the World’s Youngest University is the London-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).

For QS Rankers, Universities “Excellence” is measured by a questionable proxy measure called “Citations per faculty (20%)”.

Their “Citations” indicator aims to assess Universities’ Research Output. A ‘citation’ means a piece of research being cited (referred to) within another piece of research. Generally, the more often a piece of research is cited by others, the more influential it is. So the more highly cited research papers a university publishes, the stronger its research output is considered. A rather simple but nonetheless na├»ve and invalid construct of “Research Excellence”.    

QS collects this “Citations” information using Scopus, the world’s largest database of research abstracts and citations. The latest five complete years of data are used, and the total citation count is assessed in relation to the number of academic faculty members at the university, so that larger institutions don’t have an unfair advantage.

It is blatantly obviously that QS Rankers had no clue what “Universities’ Research output” means.  QS Rankers, in using “Citations” as a Top Ranking Criteria (20%) revealed their own ignorance and lack of understanding regarding Universities Research Excellence.  

Popular facts mentioned that Albert Einstein only published 3 papers.  Albert Einstein today would NEVER be hired by NTU based on his publication record, let alone making NTU Professor! Many NTU and NUS professors however, like many of their counterparts elsewhere, actually publish more journal papers than Nobel Prize potentials and winners!  

And NTU Senior Management had persistently resisted the recognition of NTU Professorial Research impact of their expert knowledge on innovations, entrepreneurship, businesses, community and Singapore.  

The evidence of patents and commercialised knowledge products is both sufficient and necessary in order to establish the beginning of Research Impact. Consistent professional consulting assignments with credible national and international organizations or businesses known for their high quality professional standards are also tangible evidence of personal professorial research as well as professional impact.

Using the dubious “Citations” as a questionable proxy measure for Research Excellence is lazy and a convenient substitute for a true and valid measure of Research Excellence “Impact”.  For QS Rankers, the winning Soccer Team is determined by counting the number of passes and ball possessions instead of the overall goals score impact!  Seriously, how VALID or Significant would this be?

Furthermore, the use of the dubious “Citations” also ignored the prevalence of academic misconduct whereby questionable ethics surround situations of "gratuitous" or "gift" authorship, whereby co-authors are added – either by themselves as Reporting Officers or by their subordinates - and when such “co-authors” were not involved in any significant manner in the entire research process. Original authors often had no choice but to be “raped” of their original work since these “co-authors” often control the disbursements of public research funds.  Public research funding agencies are usually NOT INTERESTED in these research malpractices as longer as their public research funds are disbursed.

The tremendous amount of publications by NTU professors (2,500+) every year must be validated by more concrete evidence of their impact on businesses and society. There should be clear, ample proof that their supposedly “new” knowledge contained and “cited” in these journal and conference papers is in fact of some degree of significance public value.

Along NTU corridors and lunch-time chats, I had heard some of most unbelievable stuff, and often similar things from more than one person!  Here are a few (please validate them by checking with Scopus or Google Scholar where applicable, please):

1)     The known NTU record is 30+ research papers in a single year claimed by a single staff (with variously similar co-authors, of course).
2)     “Common” claims by staff (with various co-authors) to have more than 8-10+ research papers per year.
3)     Many research papers claimed by a single staff (listed among first 3 authors) are in technical areas not within the staff’s known expertise, training or technical competence.
4)     A paper where authorship was claimed as the 15th among a longer list of authors.   
5)     Cases of papers submitted under different titles, but with similar contents.
6)     Cases of papers submitted under the same title to different journals.
7)     Papers translated from their original non-English, foreign language, and claimed as one’s paper and submitted to a English-medium refereed journal.   
And then some.

QS Rankers failed to evaluate the extent to which NTU had attained its goal directive to harness and capture value” (Dr Tony Tan, 29 Mar 2007).

Postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty in “Philosophy and Social Hope” (1999) suggested that "…there is a potential infinity of equally valuable ways to lead a human life, and these ways cannot be ranked in terms of degrees of excellence, BUT only in terms of their contribution to the happiness of the persons who lead them and of the communities to which these persons belong" (underlined mine).

A research study found that “specious and trivial” research resulted when people work with no goal other than that of attracting a better job, or getting tenure or higher rank.  Such “specious and trivial” research makes little contributions to knowledge. “As a result, in the past few decades, the need to secure a job in academia has certainly accounted for a fair amount of the useless material that's been published” (Hyde, L, 1983, p. 83).  

QS Rankers had trivialized “Research Excellence” by promoting Mediocrity and Worthless Value as “Excellence”.  This is yet another example of its conceptual and methodological flaws to render QS Rankings practically useless, irrelevant and immaterial for any serious educational policy purpose. It is unbelievable that such glaringly blatant and obvious defects should have escaped the presumably penetrative professional scrutiny of NTU Senior Management and Administrators, many of whom eminent Professors and Researchers themselves, who then pronounced and unashamedly embraced the spurious and bogus QS Rankings to position our University in spite of its lack of validity and reliability of their Criterion measures.

In doing so, irreparable damage was done to the great authentic reputation of Singapore. It cheapens our National and International Prestige gained from Acclaims which are Genuine, Bona Fide and Veritable.  

What profits to Singapore is a top ranking on a bogus ranking standard of dubious excellence other than to dilute the essence of NTU as a fine educational institution, and makes liars of our numerous achievements hitherto earned credibly in accordance with truly authentic and genuine measurement Criteria.

Singapore universities should no longer participate in any Global Universities Ranking scams, no matter what other “famous” Universities had been included.  All Marketing collateral making references to the bogus University Rankings should also be cleansed of the lie and return our Institution to our Authentic levels of transparency and integrity.  

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