Daniel Bell, post-industrial society, and who should pay for basic research

A few things popped Daniel Bell’s The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (1973) on my radar, and so I got an old copy for myself online. The edition I have is from 1976, with a new introduction from the author where he attempts to lessen the strain of the excessively heavy lifting some of his ideas were being forced to do by subsequent interpreters. What struck me is that for a 40 year old book, much the same conversations are being had, although it appears that in some respects we have leap-frogged the substantive elements in favour of nitty-gritty technical fixes. Bell’s book rewinds us to these bigger picture problems. Continue reading

World University Rankings – Information or Noise

Messing around with some of the results available from the Times Higher Education World University Rankings website, it’s interesting to note that near the top of the ranking over the years, things stay relatively stable, and further down there’s quite a bit of variation. In an ideal world, all the datasets would be available for download and easily manipulable (transparency!) but this is not yet the case. Anyway, doing some work for work, here’s a selection of a few institutions with their ranks plotted from the last THE-QS ranking in 2009-2010, to the most recent THE(-TR) ranking for 2013-2013.

There’s quite a bit of change from 2009-2010 to 2010-2011, when THE split from QS (or vice versa). This split resulted in a change in methodology and weightings, but things have not yet settled down, because weightings have either continued to change (though they have stayed the same since 2011 and 2012 it seems), but as Andrejs Rauhvargers notes (pdf), “the scores of all indicators, except those for the Academic Reputation Survey […] have been calucalted differently.” As well as this, in a recent journal article (“Where Are the Global Rankings Leading Us? An Analysis of Recent Methodological Changes and New Developments”), Rauhvargers notes that the THE doesn’t/won’t publish the scores of its 13 indicators. Transparency! Anyway, for what its worth, here are some pretty pictures that illustrate the noisiness of the rankings. Just fooling around with the data to see if I will return to this with the data for the full top 200 over the past 5 years.

New Picture New Picture (4)

Heidegger and Nazism – a letter from the archives

From the London Review of Books, Vol. 12 No. 7 · 5 April 1990

Richard Rorty’s eulogy of Martin Heidegger (LRB, 8 February) is shamefully tasteless, insensitive, infantile, and vulgar in the extreme. He seems to think that one should not be angry with Heidegger because, despising democracy, as does every good intellectual, he also worshipped at the phallic shrine of Nazism, joined the Party (in both senses of the word), and betrayed his colleagues and his country to support a movement which, in one of its few instances of sanity, had the good sense to reject him in favour of an even greater mind, Alfred Rosenberg, whose position as the ideological and doctrinal theoretician of the most obscene, banal, puerile, and maniacal system ever devised in the entirety of human history Rorty’s hero coveted. The Nazi Heidegger was not a hypocrite; Nazism was Heideggerism authentically made flesh. To be a hypocrite would require Heidegger to think one way and act another, but surely all of Nazism is contained within the deranged, demented putrescence of his Teutonic furz, his Gesamelte Werke.


Sidney Halpern Temple University, Pennsylvania

Problems with interdisciplinarity in the humanities

At a recent workshop on interdisciplinarity for researchers from the Coimbra Group in Trinity College Dublin, at the Long Room Hub, there were some interesting presentations (especially by Britta Padberg of ZiF and Christoph Horn of Bonn University) and conversations had about the challenges and opportunities within this area. It got me thinking about some of the theoretical and structural peculiarities of the humanities that makes the discussion of interdisciplinarity in the arts and humanities different from the STEM, and perhaps also the social sciences. As always, there are counter-examples and caveats, but here are some thoughts under the follow headings.

(i) The place of common theoretical structures in STEM and AHSS interdisciplinarity

(ii) Disciplinary and professional drivers and barriers to interdisciplinarity

(iii) Intra- and interdisciplinarity – or precision versus purity Continue reading


Excellent piece by Greg Foley responding to Morgan Kelly’s recent discussion of education in Ireland: Why ‘Grade Inflation’ is a red herring. To be read in its entirety. 

Therefore, there is a prima facie case for the ‘fact’ that the third level system has changed substantially and if we want to infer a drop in objective standards purely from grade distributions we have a pretty tough task ahead of us…

Prof Morgan Kelly on “What ever happened to Ireland” and education

Prof Morgan Kelly of University College Dublin lectures on “What ever happened to Ireland?” Discussion of the Irish education system (with some interesting observations on the PISA rankings) starts c.26 minutes in. A quote from it as a taster. He discusses the peculiarity about the Irish performance in PISA is that if you look at the number of kids who are performing very well on the test, it’s much lower than similar middle ranked economies:

In one sense that’s very good news. We’re doing pretty well, but nobody is doing extraordinarily well, which means nobody is doing extraordinarily badly either. So in terms of low-performing kids who are the ones who are hardest to teach, we’re actually doing pretty well. We’re doing the hard thing well.

But we’renot doing well by the stronger kids, and this thing gets worse as you move up to the Leaving Cert…


Rankings and other factors in US student choice, 1995 – 2012

I collected data from UCLA‘s Higher Education Research Institute‘s American Freshman Surveys (found here), and combined them all into one big spreadsheet (for download here – grey cells indicate data related to these questions were not collected for that year). 1995 is taken as the start year, as this was an exercise to look at the influence of university rankings (such as the US News & World Report, etc.) on how students make decisions about where to study, and 1995 was the first year in which information related to rankings was collected. This was done as part of my research work with Prof. Ellen Hazelkorn in Dublin Institute of Technology‘s Higher Education Policy Research Unit (HEPRU). This is intended to be indicative, rather than asserting any hard trends. I have accordingly allowed myself some flexibility. Continue reading