At #UCDavis 9/15: Dr. Cameron Neylon, “Excellence is Bullshit”.

Forwarded from Titus Brown

Dr. Cameron Neylon will be giving a talk, “Excellence is Bullshit”, on Thursday, Sep 15th, 2016 at 3:30pm in the Data Science Initiative space (Shields Library, 3rd Floor, SE corner).

Dr. Neylon is a scholar of open access and open science, and the economics and governance of sustainable infrastructure. He contributes broadly to the global conversation on how to do science more openly, and how to support and maintain scholarly communities. He is currently a Professor of Research Communications at the Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University. He has previously worked for PLOS, the Open Access publisher and at the Science and Technology Facilities Council UK. His online home is at

His visit is hosted by C. Titus Brown (UC Davis SVM) and the Innovating Communication in Scholarship project. Dr. Neylon is available for meetings on Thursday; please contact Titus at ctbrown with your availability if you are interested in meeting with him.

Talk abstract:

Excellence is Bullshit:

“Bullshit” is a technical term, referring to a statement which is neither true nor false, in which the speaker’s goal “is to impress the listener and the reader with words that communicate an impression that something is being done or has been done, words that […] obscure the facts of the matter being discussed”. You might think that “excellence” (and its bedfellows “quality” and “impact”) are also technical terms, defined with a similar precision.

On occasion effort is made to define these words, but in use this precision fails. Their deployment in guidelines, assessment criteria, and mission statements usually functions as a way of avoiding difficult questions: questions of values and the political argument over whose values are more deserving of being supported and resourced. In this sense “excellence” in the way we use it in the academy is a textbook example of bullshit.

I will argue that the rhetorical and political power of excellence (and quality and impact) as concepts is a result, not of any imposition from the outside by administration or government, but of the stories we academics tell ourselves. That the negative effects of quantitative research assessment practice on diversity, creativity, and indeed the ability of the academy to achieve positive impacts in the wider world, is a consequence of our own rhetorics, and that it is up to us to change them.

Author: Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. (see my lab site here). My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis

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