Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Leiden university rankings

You can see them for yourself here. You will note that the top rankings are overwhelmingly dominated by American universities.

Leiden university ranks other universities in the following way:
The Leiden Ranking 2011/2012 is based on publications in Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science database in the period 2005-2009. Only publications in the sciences and the social sciences are included. Publications in the arts and humanities are excluded because in these domains the bibliometric indicators of the Leiden Ranking do not have sufficient accuracy. Furthermore, only publications of the Web of Science document types article, letter, and review are considered in the Leiden Ranking.

Impact indicators

The Leiden Ranking offers the following indicators of the scientific impact of a university:

Mean citation score (MCS). The average number of citations of the publications of a university.

Mean normalized citation score (MNCS). The average number of citations of the publications of a university, normalized for field differences, publication year, and document type. An MNCS value of two for instance means that the publications of a university have been cited twice above world average.

Proportion top 10% publications (PPtop 10%). The proportion of the publications of a university that, compared with other similar publications, belong to the top 10% most frequently cited.

Publications are considered similar if they were published in the same field and the same publication year and if they have the same document type.

Citations are counted until the end of 2010 in the above indicators. Author self citations are excluded. The PPtop 10% indicator is more stable than the MNCS indicator, and we therefore regard the PPtop 10% indicator as the most important impact indicator of the Leiden Ranking.

In other words it looks at how often papers coming out of a given university are cited in other papers.

That rather explains the American dominance. There are a LOT of American universities (around 7,000 on some counts -- depending on what you define as a university). So what we are seeing is that all those American researchers mostly cite papers by other Americans. There are many reasons why that might be so with the excellence of the cited paper being only one of the reasons.

Being personally acquainted (via conferences etc.) with other people working in your field is another obvious reason. I know from my own experience during my research career that the heaviest use of my papers mostly came from people I knew personally from conferences.

So although the Leiden rankings are the most objective of the rankings available they are really only useful in ranking American universities. As rankings of universities worldwide they are essentially useless.

It is therefore all the more to the credit of the occasional non-American university that crept into the list. The highest ranking Australian university was the ANU, ranked 114th. The ANU was of course designed from the beginning as a research-heavy university so that is not unexpected.

The University of Melbourne came 163rd ,the University of Queensland (my alma mater) was 170th but the University of Sydney was 290th.

Most other rankings of world universities place Australian universities much higher.

One "habitat" versus another

THE federal and NSW governments are facing claims their $24 million purchase of the historic Toorale Station near Bourke in 2008 to help the Murray-Darling river system was a waste of money that has harmed the local economy while delivering scant environmental benefit.

Three years after the federal government led the purchase of the 91,000-hectare property to release its irrigated water back to the river system, the dams and irrigation channels are still in place - though their decommissioning was a key part of the environmental plan - the Herald has confirmed.

An "infrastructure decommissioning plan" drawn up by engineering consultants Aurecon in 2009 found there were environmental obstacles to scrapping the dams and channels because a new ecology has grown in the 150 years since the station was established. Also, a complete decommissioning would cost $79 million.

Angry locals have told the Herald their economy has been battered without much gain.

"It's very hard to see that there's been any environmental benefit whatsoever from the $23.75 million that was spent," Geoff Wise, general manager of Bourke Shire, said. "But there's been millions and millions of dollars of lost productivity that would have flowed had it remained a viable property."

He said Toorale Station had provided about 10 per cent of Bourke's business and 4 per cent of the shire rates. "Overnight, we lost that."

The property on the confluence of the Darling and Warrego rivers was bought by the NSW government, though the Commonwealth paid the bulk of the purchase price with nearly $20 million and in return got the water rights.

The then water minister Penny Wong said at the time the infrastructure decommissioning plan would be "implemented as soon as possible". The Aurecon report in August 2009 advised "partial decommissioning".

The federal Environment Department said in a statement to the Herald the purchase had delivered an extra 56 billion litres of water to the environment by releasing water out of the dams. This falls short of the average 20 billion litres a year - peaking at 80 billion in flood years - Senator Wong promised in 2009, despite the heavy rains and flooding of recent years.

In the 2010-11 financial year, 7.6 billion litres were returned to the river system - just 0.01 per cent of the total flow of water through the Darling River at the Louth gauge, downstream.

The Water Minister, Tony Burke, acknowledged decommissioning had "taken longer than originally expected" and added "we're still working through the technical details with NSW as to which is the best pathway".

He said the water already recovered had helped the Darling River, the Warrego River, the Great Darling Anabranch and the River Murray wetlands.

Even supporters of the purchase are disappointed by the lack of progress. Justin McClure, the owner of Kallara Station, a flood plain grazing property south-west of Bourke on the Darling River, said it had always been the understanding the dams would be removed.

"I'm disappointed that the infrastructure hasn't been decommissioned," he said."I'm disappointed that more water hasn't been returned to the river, although I understand the issues the government is facing."

Mr McClure said there had been environmental gains downstream and he still believed the purchase had been worth the money. But he added: "The fact there's no information on what they're actually doing is what upsets me the most … I don't think it's a transparent process."

The opposition water spokesman, Barnaby Joyce, said the Toorale situation boded ill for Murray-Darling Basin reform.

"When the nation pays for a property that doesn't actually deliver much water into the Darling River and now they are reorganising the nation's food bowl and how we feed ourselves, I get very worried."


The Labor party's freedom from information office

Never accuse the government of lacking a sense of humour. It was brilliant! Here was its new agency, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. An official-looking website claimed this supposed "OAIC" was part of the Attorney-General's Department.

It was committed to "open public sector information", according to the mission statement. On and on it went about the integrity and importance of free, public, and open information in government.

"We will champion open government, provide advice and assistance to the public, promote better information management by government … we will have a comprehensive range of functions, including investigating complaints". Vigorous stuff, but was it too vigorous to be true?

Government-held information is a national resource, this OAIC said

Just the place to go for some information, we thought. We had discovered public information had been disappearing from government databases. Something had to be done. The Australian Information Commissioner here we come!

"No comment," the commissioner said, via email.

But hang on! Large files of public information had been quietly purged by the corporate regulator, and the central bank and Treasury. National resources buried, by three separate departments. We have a pattern. Here is the proof.

"No comment," the email from the communications operative said on behalf of the commissioner.

It was at that moment that the penny dropped. This was not just another bureaucratic enclave whose sole raison d'etre was self-preservation. It was actually a gag, and a damn fine gag too, an information gag.

"Care for some information about information? Yes sir, you've come to the right place, no doubt about that! Just wait there for two weeks, sit tight, we'll get right back to you!" It was Pythonesque - the Ministry for Silly Pranks, the Bureau for Wasting People's Time.

The name of the Australian Information Commissioner, they say, is Professor John McMillan. It sounds lifelike. Indeed the name is attached to long and windy statements in the annual report about strong commitment to open government, engagement with government agencies and so forth.

But was he real? Dare we try to speak with this mysterious professor himself? Again, we emailed a question to this elusive figure via a communications officer:

"In the spirit of freedom of Australian information and keeping the public properly informed in the press are you prepared to actually speak with me on the telephone?"

Alas! Our petitions were met, once again, with a good old fobbing-off.

"Thanks for your email. John often speaks directly to journalists but he is very pressed for time this afternoon as he is leaving for the airport at 4. He asked me to let you know that there is nothing more that he can add on this particular issue without a proper investigation."

Was it that the professor, if he really existed, had yet to embrace the mobile phone revolution? Or perhaps he was off on a trip, one of those nice overseas trips; a fact-finding mission from Canberra to Cancun say; finding facts about information at the annual international conference for information commissioners in order to commission a steering committee report on a white paper to evaluate the opportunities for a comprehensive range of functions with which to address the challenges of promoting more efficient information management.

The question is serious. It is about information vanishing from public databases: public information about banks using government guarantees, information about government agencies providing special favours to liquidators.

McMillan proffered his "no comment" to the question of exemption orders being purged from the public database of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. The documents were relief orders given to liquidators, providing special exemptions from their having to file public accounts. Lots of them.

They disappeared about the time the regulator was to come under scrutiny by a Senate inquiry into liquidators. The Senate report was damning. Nothing was ever done by ASIC to restore the information to the public database. And as yet there is zero accountability from the OAIC or any other agency.

To the second issue: large swathes of public information had been purged from the Reserve Bank of Australia and Treasury websites, without explanation, relating to sovereign guarantees for wholesale bank funding.

When questioned, the RBA conceded it took down the information because a bank, or the banks, had requested it. The OAIC did not even respond to the issue by acknowledging it with a "no comment".

"The OAIC looks forward to an energetic year promoting information rights, information policy and the strategic management of personal and public sector information," Professor John McMillan, Australian Information Commissioner, said in this year's annual report.


A case that should worry all Queenslanders

THE tacky, disturbing and totally unnecessary case of Bruce Rowe versus misplaced authority came to an end in the District Court on Monday. Well, it could have, although Constable Benjamin Arndt, who was found guilty of assaulting Rowe in 2006 in Brisbane's Queen Street Mall, could appeal to the Supreme Court or, conceivably, beyond.

The immovable Rowe, who turned 71 on Sunday, was a comparative stripling of 65 when he crossed paths with Arndt and a bunch of other police about 9 o'clock on the night of July 9, five-and-a-half years ago.

In an incident that was widely seen on TV (and is still out there on YouTube), Rowe was arrested, charged and convicted of obstructing police and failing to obey a police order after a disagreement that began in the public toilets and ended with him being held down by four officers and kneed by another.

It dragged through the Magistrates Court, the District Court and the Court of Appeal. The first court convicted Rowe, the second confirmed the conviction but the third overturned it.

The rematch came in the Magistrates Court in February when Rowe launched a private prosecution resulting in Arndt being found guilty of assaulting Rowe, fined $1000 and ordered to pay him $2250 court costs, although no conviction was recorded.

The established forces of investigation or law and order were conspicuous by their absence.

Then Arndt disputed the magistrate's findings but this week Judge Brian Devereaux tossed out the appeal. Watch this space.

The appeal largely revolved around claims that magistrate Linda Bradford-Morgan had relied on information extraneous to the case.

Arndt argued that the wrongful consideration of extraneous materials constituted a substantial miscarriage of the Magistrates Court trial, justice was not seen to be done and the trial was not conducted according to law.

Judge Devereaux was sympathetic to a point but decided it was open to the magistrate to convict Arndt on the original evidence without the distraction of the extraneous material.

He watched the distasteful video "many times" and declared: "It is unnecessary to say I reach precisely the same conclusions ... having due regard to the findings and conclusions of the magistrate but mindful of the errors I have found in her honour's reasoning, I have formed my own conclusion that the force used in the application of the four knee strikes was not authorised or justified or excused by law. "It was unlawful because it was not reasonably necessary and was unjustified in the circumstances."

How did it all come to this and why did it take so long to resolve?

Had Rowe been just another homeless, friendless and vulnerable man it might have been a simple issue resolved in court just after the morning drunks' parade.

In nine cases out of 10, that might have happened. However Rowe, although grieving and troubled, was also a stubborn and courageous man who refused to take a step backwards in the face of what he perceived as injustice.

He ultimately turned out to be more than capable of looking after himself and seeking justice. Perhaps, it is the other nine out of 10 cases we should be worried about.

At the time of Arndt's assault case, Police Union president Ian Leavers expressed concern that the conviction had "dire consequences for all police officers doing their job". "I am very, very concerned now that police officers across the state will be reluctant to do their job and the community will suffer," Leavers said.

It is a seductive sentiment for those who haven't the wit or the humility to ever imagine themselves in Rowe's shoes. However, it is ultimately even more harmful to the community to pretend that police cannot do their job without breaking the law.

And it is an affront to the thousands of police who do manage to do their difficult jobs without breaking the letter or the spirit of the law and apply the police motto of "With honour we serve" to all citizens, regardless of their station or their situation.

Equally worrying is that justice was delivered despite, not because of, the Police Ethical Standards Command and the Crime and Misconduct Commission, which found there was insufficient evidence to charge any of the police officers over the incident.

Subsequent court findings that Rowe was not only innocent but had been unlawfully roughed up must raise questions about the quality and diligence of both investigations.

Had it not been for the toughness and pigheadedness of Rowe, whose "age and slight frame" were noted by the magistrate, a serious wrong would have gone unpunished.

Had it not been for the video evidence, his might have been the feeble voice of an ordinary man who had fallen on hard times against that of police.

The inadequacies of the investigations into this event - and similar failings and inconsistencies in many others - are hardly likely to inspire confidence among the public or the police, who have an equal entitlement to justice.

The Roman poet Juvenal is credited with asking "Who will guard the guardians?" We are yet to adequately answer that, but surely it is not a 71-year-old man.


Report reveals emergency department bottleneck

AMBULANCES and emergency departments are becoming increasingly jammed with patients as Victorian hospitals struggle to cope with a shortage of beds, new figures show.

Doctors yesterday called for an urgent increase in hospital capacity after the state government's latest hospital report showed hundreds of thousands of patients had waited longer than they should for emergency and surgical care since July last year. This included two patients who waited more than the government's benchmark time for urgent elective surgery at the Royal Women's Hospital.

The report showed a clear bottleneck developing in emergency departments, where 1877 people were left on trolleys for more than 24 hours while waiting for a bed during the last financial year. This was nearly double the 1012 people left on trolleys during the 11 months to June 2010.

Between July and September, the problem appeared to get worse, with a further 623 patients waiting more than a day on a trolley, compared to 320 for the previous quarter between April and June.

Frankston Hospital was by far the worst, with 1046 patients waiting longer than 24 hours between July 2010 and September this year, followed by Albury hospital with 535 and the Mercy in Werribee with 305.

Ambulances have also faced more delays in handing over patients to emergency department staff because of a shortage of beds.

The report showed that in the last financial year, 15.6 per cent or 49,907 of the 319,922 patients taken to hospitals by ambulance remained with paramedics for more than 40 minutes before they could be left with emergency department staff.

This blew out further between July and September this year, with 19,407 of the 84,017 ambulance deliveries taking more than 40 minutes to hand over. Paramedics have long complained that this holds them up, reducing the number of ambulances free to attend new cases.

While all urgent emergency department patients were treated immediately, more than 200,000 semi-urgent and non-urgent patients waited longer than the benchmark times for care between July last year and September this year. This included people having strokes and those suffering severe bleeding and breathing difficulties.

On elective surgery, all but two urgent patients were treated within the government's benchmark of 30 days during the last financial year, but 25 per cent of semi-urgent patients waited longer than the government's target of 90 days for their procedures.

Health Minister David Davis acknowledged the system could improve, but said hospitals had coped well with record demand. He said Frankston Hospital's poor results had prompted a review of its emergency department.

Opposition health spokesman Gavin Jennings accused Mr Davis of trying to bury the report by releasing it three days before Christmas.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Emergency department bottleneck? They know nothing of Emergency Department bottlenecks.

Really though, you could run that story anytime over the past 20 years and it would be word-for-word the same.