And why are they getting duller all the time – growing more boring and less intelligent? This controversial question has been asked by Bruce Charlton, a professor of theoretical medicine at the University of Buckingham and editor of the journal Medical Hypotheses, in a highly debated article in Oxford Magazine. According to the professor, the answer lies in the selection and training process used in academia – a process which ruthlessly weeds out any interesting people. Among other things, Bruce Charlton concludes that what he calls “the creative class” has disappeared from our universities because modern research demands conformist book-keeper types who do not mind working under the huge amount of bureaucracy that surrounds research today.
“This dullness is not accidental, but a product of the fact that scientists are not even trying to do interesting research, funders are not prepared to fund interesting research (because it has a high risk of failing to deliver), and most journals are not keen to publish interesting research (because it is more likely to be wrong),” writes Bruce Charlton.
A number of researchers at Aarhus University say that the British professor is not actually completely wrong.
“He’s certainly absolutely right that the financing and publication options available these days tend to lead to boring research. Researchers these days focus on safe research – which is rarely the most exciting research – because this is where the money lies,” says Ernst Martin Füchtbauer, an associate professor of molecular biology.
Verner Møller, a professor of physical education and sport, puts the case even more strongly: “The system helps to cut me down to size and makes me conform. For instance, it’s a problem that lots of researchers no longer have the time to do any reading. We write and write until our arms fall off, but we hardly ever do any reading – apart from a few abstracts so we remember to quote other people. And this does make you duller. Reading and research are two sides of the same coin, so it’s absurd that these days reading is almost the only part of your job that you don’t need to register and account for,” says Verner Møller.
A wide-ranging brain research project at Aarhus University has received DKK 120 million from the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. Over the next five years the money will finance a broad-scale investigation of the function, diseases and development of the brain – a project entitled “MINDLab”.
Roughly 120 researchers from six different faculties will be contributing to all the many sub-projects involved, including doctors, philosophers, anthropologists, religion researchers, physicists, psychologists, language researchers, biologists and others.
The project will be led by Professor Leif Søndergaard, the director of the Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience at Aarhus University, and will be based at the Danish Centre for Neuroscience currently being built at Aarhus University Hospital – where many of the researchers will be working closely alongside the doctors.
The Aarhus project had to compete with 27 other Danish projects which were all evaluated by an international panel of judges. The panel gave top grades to four projects, each of which will be receiving DKK 120 million from a government fund designed to promote world-class research in Denmark.
These days the internet is bursting with offers of Master’s degrees from more or less impressive-sounding universities, and exam certificates are being misused all over the world. But fake degrees are at best dangerous and at worst illegal, say the experts.
“Degrees from fake universities are a very serious problem in the US, and my impression is that they’re also becoming a very serious problem in the rest of the world,” explains Alan Contreras. He is the administrator of the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization in the US, which is responsible for accrediting university degrees, and he is regarded as one of the leading experts on fake examination certificates.
In Denmark anyone can start a university and award professorships as long as this does not conflict with Danish marketing legislation – for instance, you are not allowed to say that your degrees have been accredited by the authorities.
In the past the Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation has explained the lack of control by the fact that universities are independent institutions; and Martin Henriksen, spokesman on education for the Danish People’s Party, says that fake universities are too small a problem to warrant special legislation.
“Of course it may seem odd that anyone can call themselves a university, but in my view the solution is that students ought to make sure they only study at officially accredited institutions,” he says.
Alan Contreras from Oregon begs to differ: “In most countries you can’t just call yourself a university if you want to. You need official authorisation – which prevents any abuse. For instance, in my home state it’s illegal to apply for jobs using examination certificates from non-accredited institutions. And this definitely has a good effect,” he explains.
In Denmark it is not illegal to start a university or call yourself a rector, professor or graduate without ever having opened a single book. But according to Svend Larsen, who is the head of the Personnel Office at Aarhus University, people should be extremely wary about using fake documents – for instance in connection with job interviews.
“If you give the impression that you’re better qualified than you really are and your salary is fixed accordingly, you are actually committing fraud. And in general you’re unlikely to keep your job when your employers find out that you’re not as well qualified as you seemed on paper,” he says.