Letters – 13 June 2019

June 13, 2019

Embrace the universal nature of science

David Matthews’ article “Can academics help heal the world’s rifts?” (News, 6 June) covers a bewildering landscape of interpretations of the notion of “science diplomacy”. The examples discussed range from its use as “soft power” to achieve national interests, to its potential to open up hermit kingdoms, its capacity to reverse some future impacts of Brexit and more. The article also touches on provocative topics, such as the recent outcry by some US pundits that the very engine that has fuelled America’s scientific dominance – its capacity to attract talent from other nations – is being used by China to facilitate technology theft. Because none of these many facets of scientific exchange can be addressed meaningfully in the length of a single article, many unfortunate misunderstandings are left unaddressed.

From the perspective of the New York Academy of Sciences there is no American science, British science, Chinese science or Russian science, there is just science. Because scientific research can be used for ill as well as good, every aspect of scientific collaboration can be critiqued. And yes, open, transnational exchange can sometimes foster negative outcomes. But, at the end of the day, open exchange – tapping into the most talented minds regardless of their country of origin—remains our best hope for advancing the beneficial elements of science.

In truth, the grand challenges we all face – climate change, health disparities and economic inequalities – are best addressed by collective efforts at the cutting edge of science.

Ellis Rubinstein
President and chief executive officer, New York Academy of Sciences

Pop culture is no sin

Why label some activities and practices as “Guilty pleasures” (Features, 6 June)? Surely the value judgement associated with “guilty” as opposed to “innocent” pleasures – which I read as canonically enshrined pleasures – maintains the high/low binary rather than complicating or collapsing it.

How about an article speaking to academics about what topics have been given a wide berth in their field? I have many. It has always amazed me how English departments refuse to study popular fiction in favour of so-called “literary fiction”, leaving hundreds of authors and novels to occupy an invisible culture composed of non-engagement; whereas media and cultural studies seem dead set on de-recognising literature in its many guises as a form of media (which, of course, it is). I think the academic community should be widening their horizons and casting scholarly nets as far as possible. In ignoring the many varied currents of popular culture we run the risk of failing to capture the full gamut of human creativity, and the knowledge that such studies would ultimately generate.

Via timeshighereducation.com

Integrity intact

The review of our book American Intolerance: Our Dark History of Demonizing Immigrants (Prometheus, 2018) published in Times Higher Education on 17 January, stated that there was “a problem with the reliability of quotations and information, often taken from secondary sources as if the authors had actually read them. A few that I checked were not accurate.” The review author has since clarified the meaning of this statement and that it is in no way meant to imply that the authors lack academic integrity or have cited passages without having read them. It was in reference to the use of secondary sources in general. Furthermore, when pressed to identify sources that were cited inaccurately, no unambiguous example was identified. The suggestion that evidence of the authors’ qualifications could be found in their occupations (secondary school teacher; science journalist) would have been best left out. The authors stand by the scholarship of their work.

Dr Robert E. Bartholomew
Anja Reumschüssel

Be constructive

When it comes to feedback (“Student evaluations ‘leave academics in fear’”, News, 6 June) I would focus more on the skill set required to give and receive good constructive feedback. In my experience this is a massive gap in learning and development for both students and staff. Yet staff are expected to deliver high amounts of valuable feedback to their students and to other staff, while students are expected to understand how to receive large quantities of feedback and then give constructive feedback to their peers and university staff. Effective feedback going both ways is a life skill that needs to be continuously developed.

Via timeshighereducation.com

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