Archive for April, 2010

I’ve been taking some time off from my research to consider events at Prague Castle yesterday (8 April), when the US and Russian presidents, Obama and Medvedev, signed a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in advance of the upcoming nuclear security summit in Washington on Monday (12 April). This was a “follow on” treaty, part of an ongoing process going back to the big set-piece START summits of the 1980s. I use the term “set-piece” advisedly because the emphasis was on the mood music rather than the substance. Remember Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Washington? Reykjavik? Geneva? How about Moscow? Ronald Reagan in the Evil Empire? No? Anyway, true to form, the Prague Castle treaty was signed by Obama and Medvedev with “trumpet fanfare” (AP).

Scratch the surface, however, and there is less to be cheerful about.

Even after the limited reductions brought about by the original START, the US and Russia still stock enough strategic or intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles to destroy the world “many times over” (AP). So it’s heartening to see them agreeing further reductions so that they can now only destroy the world just a couple of times over. It seems churlish to raise objections to that and ask for more, doesn’t it? These are complicated treaties after all and they take time. And as we are told ad nauseam there are plenty of unstable regimes – friendly as well as hostile – which have their own nuclear arsenals that could threaten western security in the not so distant future. But if we consider the hard evidence and not the propaganda it seems that the level of nuclear threat such countries represent appears to be inversely proportionate to the size of their nuclear stockpile.

Bear in mind first of all that the leader of the free and civilized world, America, has 2,700 warheads, while Russia has 4, 830. Then check the UK (180-200); France (300); our mutually suspicious allies India (70) and Pakistan (60); and America’s firmest ally in the Middle East, Israel (75-200). Some of these figures are maximum estimates, while the data on Israel is difficult to confirm since that country officially denies it has nuclear weapons and excludes itself from international monitoring.  But that’s still between 7,000 and 8,000 warheads for the civilized western world and its unstable friends to the east.

Now consider Iran, pinnacle of the Axis of Evil. It has no nuclear weapons. Then there’s that crazy regime, North Korea, with a grand total of between 5-15. And China, that emergent superpower we’re really rather afraid and unsure of, has a mere 176. That’s upwards of 200 altogether.

All of this goes to show why we need that nuclear security summit on Monday. It’s a very scary world out there.

(Source for data on nuclear stockpile: Volha Charnysh, Arms Control Association:


Research Impact

Posted: April 2, 2010 in Academia

I’m on leave in Greece at the moment as part of a big research initiative: “Throwing Good Money After Bad: The Research Excellence Framework and the Quest for Measuring Impact”.  

Honestly. I just filled out a research proposal for a three-month study of beach culture in the Greek Islands, Turkey, and Southern California never thinking I’d get away with it especially when it came to the all-important section on research impact. Please demonstrate, it said, likely social, economic and cultural impact of proposed research. So I put down, “A good tan, record low stress levels and blood pressure for researcher, plus a possible insight into how beach cultures vary according to geographical location, cultural milieu and time of day”. Imagine my surprise when I got the letter telling me my application was successful!  I even got called up to the Vice Chancellor’s office for a glass of single malt.  

Though I did have to temper my ecstasy around the corridor.  Alas, one of my colleagues was turned down by the same research council. It was a blinding proposal to gauge the impact of social immobility on visual and cultural literacy. It was so much better and more worthy than mine, I thought, but she slipped up in that section on impact, where she claimed: “The research findings will have obvious social and cultural policy implications for a range of government departments, public bodies and voluntary agencies, with possible positive outcomes for people who’ve pawned the telly to feed the kids.”  Oh dear. But on the upside, she has been invited to resubmit for the next round. Any one out there that can suggest a better claim for impact, post it here and I’ll pass it on to her. I’m sure she’d be touched.

Well, that’s all for now. It’s blowing up a wee gale here and there’s sand getting in my laptop.


A tentative first entry.

Posted: April 2, 2010 in Blog world

Hello!  This is my first venture into the blogosphere so bear with me if I make a whole lot of stupid mistakes. I will get a friend to give me some training and get to grips with it in time! For now, I suppose a good idea would be to keep it simple and tell you all something about me and why I’ve started this blog.  

So why “Academic Anonymous”? (And why did wordpress conflate the words into one? ) Well,  first, I am indeed an academic from Ireland, working in the UK higher education sector, who wishes to remain anonymous and engage in lively discussion on the world of  academia, politics and culture.

But there’s another reason for the name. It’s because being an academic in the UK these days is a bit like being an alcoholic. You can’t live with it and you can’t live without it and you know it’s probably the ruination of you. Yet it’s not just a job as so many well meaning non-academics (otherwise known as family and friends) tell me with weary sighs and pitiful gazes. No, it’s an incurable condition. It’s part self-delusion (I can make a difference and contribute to human knowledge!) and part grand obsession ( I keep all these thousands of newspaper clippings in case I might need them one day!)

The only thing that keeps me reasonably sane is the certainty that there is a great big dysfunctional community of like minded souls out there who don’t want to admit it in public either but yearn for the opportunity to stand up tall and declare: “Hello. My name is John/Jane and I’m an academic!” and know that the room won’t go deadly silent or rapidly empty, that she will be greeted with warm smiles, a sympathetic ear and a large glass of vino.  

Wait…did I say it was an “incurable condition”? That’s not true. There is a cure and its called redundancy but apparently I’m too young for that yet.  Onwards but not necessarily upwards then. Hope to hear from someone soon.