Finding ground zero: An investigation into ultimate credibility
“Those who claim for themselves to judge the truth are bound to possess a criterion of truth.”
– Sextus Empiricus
Searching for absolute truth is futile. Meanings are uncertain, and we are limited to “the logical clarification of [others’] thoughts” (Wittgenstein, 1922, p. 44). We understand others’ meanings by using their texts as evidence of their perspectives and ideologies (Poulson & Wallace, 2003. We conduct “hermeneutic cycles” on distinct textual elements by extracting and replacing them to uncover their context and subtext (Eagleton, 1996, p. 64). Sextus’ quotation ties Wittgenstein’s uncertainty and our subjective positioning against others’ texts; in our drive to understand we need criteria with which to understand.
Lower case, truth is a continuum from absolute veracity to absolute falsity. Readers need to establish their definition of truth to satisfy texts’ truth status. Following Poulson and Wallace (2003), the focus of investigation is non-trivial language that employs concept, metaphor, perspectives, assumptions and ultimately to ideologies. This essay follows some of the early claims in Huisman and Naidoo (2006) (H&N) to establish their likely truth value. This action logically precedes any other and is necessary preliminary to judging any other ideology. Only the first pages are analysed as they indicate clearly the unreliability of the article as being unqualifiedly biased and opinionated.
The first red flag comes in the introduction where H&N set up a straw-man argument. They claim that the Bergen Communiqué neglects any discussion of professional doctorate programmes and focusses only on the traditional PhD structure. However, the relevant section from the Bergen document does not distinguish between any types of doctorate. This distinguishing action is done by H&N.
The final sentence on page 2 is entirely predicated on a reference for its truth value. Let’s follow that reference. H&N mention a, “problem of brain-drain” and cite one of the author’s earlier (2002) works in defence. In this work, the issue of brain-drain is offered as an unsupported and unreferenced conclusion (p. 158). The second claim, “the perceived unattractiveness of an academic career”, takes us again to the 2002 article. For this, they reference Finkelstein, Seal, and Schuster (1998) whose statistics were severely criticised by a reviewer (Fairweather, 2000). Basing a claim on what seems to be questionable statistics is often labelled cherry-picking. We stay with Huisman’s 2002 article to follow up the 2006 claim about low salaries. Far more problematic was the next reference. Huisman (2002) cites Welch (1998) for support. Huisman’s first sentence reads: “Internationally, the fault lines of an uncertain academic career are becoming increasingly apparent.” Welch’s reads: “Internationally, the fault line of an uncertain future are becoming increasingly evident”. Similarly, Huisman’s assertion regarding salaries follows Welch’s verbatim. This is flagrant plagiarism!
Plagiarism aside, we need to probe the veracity of these claims, we must follow Welch’s two references. The first is about the reduction in governmental funding. Welch relies on data from Australia and Mexico to support his claim that retrenchments occurred globally. It is highly doubtful that a worldwide phenomenon can be generalised from the data of just two countries. The Australian reference took us to Harman (1996). Unfortunately, it was not possible to locate the exact article, but some of Harman’s other work is available. In Harmer (2002), he discusses the Australian government’s funding of PhD funding reduction. This number, however, is unsupported. The veracity status of Welch’s use of Harman is, likewise, uncertain. When the Mexican source was found to be a two-page brief description piece of the situation in Mexico (Ordorika, 1996) that had no statistics or references, I arrived at the conclusion that H&N’s article may be an interesting opinion piece, but that very little of it could be trusted.
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Fairweather, J. S. Review of The new academic generation: A profession in transformation. The Journal of Higher Education, 71(3), 368-370.
Finkelstein, M. J., Seal, R. K., & Schuster, J. H. (1998). The new academic generation: A profession in transformation. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.
Harmer, G. (2002). Producting PhD graduates in Australia for the knowledge economy. Higher Education Research and Development, 21(2), 179-190.
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Huisman, J., de Weert, E., & Bartelse, J. (2002). Academic careers from a European perspective. The Journal of Higher Education, 73(1), 141-160.
Ordorika, I. (1996). Mexican higher education in transition: From politically to financially driven public policies. International Higher Education, 5, 7-8.
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