Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Affiliate Professor Jeremy Baker Requires A Moment Of Your Time

Let's start way back at the beginning. My academic career started well and tailed off quite badly. By 'well', I mean that I began school at 5 and had burned through the school's entire stock of books by the age of 7. Come secondary school I bounced from institution to institution, memorably scoring a fine 4% in a maths exam and being on the receiving end of violence and scorn from the Sisters of Mercy, the Christian Brothers and the Benedictines. Achieving largely undistinguished A-levels, the Clearing system came to my rescue and I took a degree in English with large chunks of Philosophy and various other subjects mixed in. I'd picked up a couple of languages and acquired a few more, mostly in the pub and through sharing houses. Next came an MA in Welsh Writing in English, and finally a PhD in Masculinity and Politics in 1930s Welsh Literature. Since then I've published occasionally on Welsh literature, Welsh literature in English, Foucault, jazz in contemporary fiction, Star Trek and Doctor Who, and I'm working on politicians' creative writing and Welsh Appalachia. 

The trend, as you can see, is specialisation. It's taken 11 GCSE's, three A-levels, three degrees and a teaching certificate to qualify me to mark the pile of first-year English essays currently on my desk, and I was 34 before I had a regular income and a full-time job. I'm just like any other academic, except less productive and more sarcastic. 

Amongst the academics I admire most are the AHRC/BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinkers, an incubator scheme that nurtures some of the best new academics  and gets their work in the public domain. It's a brilliant scheme that doesn't take into account institutional prestige, and believes strongly in the value of communicating good research to the people who ultimately pay for it. 

Which brings me to the point of today's post: Affiliate Professor Jeremy Baker, the Today programme and News Values. 

Affiliate Professor Baker was interviewed on Today this morning about workers' rights, which he described as 'rewards' due to the 'middle-class' and awarded to everyone as a right only by those who are, or want to be, 'French'. In a world largely without workers' rights, he said, Britain can only stay competitive by withdrawing them. He notably declined to deny that he was advocating 'exploitation'. 

So far, so terrible. Awful views, but it's a free country. However, it got me thinking about the process of inviting this man onto the nation's most prestigious news broadcast. A few years back, Mitchell and Webb teased the media for its sudden and rather desperate attempt to catch up with social media.

Very funny, I thought. And I'm regularly to be found tweeting on the #bbcqt and #bbcr4today hashtags: howling into the void without any hope of a response from those in charge. Little did I think, however, that being a Man In Possession of a Reckon now qualifies you not simply to Send In Your Views but to be interviewed as an expert on the nation's most prestigious, agenda-setting news magazine. 

Appalled by the Affiliate Professor's views, I wondered where the BBC had found him. Being an researcher of sorts I decided to look him up. This wasn't easy, but eventually I found his institution: the private ESCP Europe Business School, which has campuses in London, Berlin, Paris and several other places. It has not, to my knowledge, troubled the league tables nor the Nobel Prize committees. Given the British Establishment's obsession with Oxford and Cambridge, I'm at the least surprised that they went so far off the beaten path for this guy. 

So ESCP Europe Business School isn't much cop. It's so removed from UK academic standards that it isn't even allowed the 'ac.uk' URL or email addresses (that's a tip, kids). But what of the distinguished Affiliate Professor? Well, I looked him up on ESCP Europe Business School's website. You can't do the same because within minutes of the interview, the relevant pages were removed as if by magic! Thankfully, I took a screenshot and also resorted to the Wayback Machine. 

Here are Affiliate Professor Jeremy Baker's publications and current research profile:

So the Today programme's expert in the field is a man with no publications and no current research. But he does have an MBA and a teaching qualification! To be fair to Affiliate Professor (not a standard title by the way) he does have one publication: a self-help book about the pre-fame careers of various well-known people. It's called Tolstoy's Bicycle and it came out in 1983. Here's what it covers:

Copies are available from 1p to £1751. But let's delve a little deeper into the good Affiliate Professor's career. Has he, like the BBC New Generation Thinkers, or even me, devoted his life to deepening his understanding of his chosen field, employment law and the philosophy and economy of human rights? 

Um, no. According to the Wayback Machine's archived page, this is his life.
He has Credentials and membership such as:
  • AA Dip: Architectural Association Diploma, RIBA part 2
  • MBA: Stanford Business School, California
  • MA: Anthropology, Stanford University, California
  • DipM: Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma
  • CAM Dip: Communications Advertising Marketing Diploma
  • Cert Ed: Greenwich University PG Certificate in teaching Higher Education
  • CIPR: Member, Chartered Institute of Public Relations
  • CIPR: On Awards judging panel, 2006, 2007, 2009  
  • F.CAM: appointed Fellow of the CAM Foundation – Comms Advertising Marketing
  • Society of Authors: Member
  • Press Club of London: Member
  • University of Tennessee: Award   for help with their PR programme
  • Journal of Comm Mngmt: Member, editorial board
  • Southampton Solent Uni: External Examiner: BA New Media
He is, in fact, qualified in architecture, teaches Marketing and is very, very available for media work. Has he though had a distinguished career in academia, drawing on his wide range of experience? Again, no:
In the course of his career, he was a visiting lecturer in Marketing and international business analysis at London Metropolitan University and at Cambridge Marketing College. Jeremy Baker is also a commentator for TV and radio on marketing and consumer issues. He worked as a freelance PR on communication for Avon Cosmetics, New West End Co, Rain, Communications, Selfridges, and Oxford Street retailers NWEC.
Now London has many fine courses, but Cambridge Marketing College is not, as far as I'm aware, another bastion of critical enquiry, and being a visiting lecturer there (read: hourly-paid) is probably not the career profile of a nationally-important commentator. 

The major question isn't why Affiliate Professor Jeremy Baker thinks he's an expert in workers' rights: the question is why the BBC deems him sufficiently qualified to speak on the subject to the nation. The New Generation thinkers have struggled intellectually, economically and personally to become experts and their reward is to reach the tiny (but lovely) Radio 3 audience. Jeremy hasn't struggled in any way and yet gets to go on the Today problem. This is (finally) about news values. Rather than get someone from industry or academia to present their experience and research, the editors decided that their priority was controversy and extreme views: entertainment rather than information. In the process, an obscure and frankly less-than-credible source is given national credibility for himself and his Reckons without having to substantiate any of his claims via peer-reviewed research. 

How did they choose him? What are the criteria? Why should hard-working academics put effort into testing and refining ideas if snake-oil salesmen are considered more radio-friendly simply because their views are more pungent? We'll never know, because they don't respond to queries or complaints. It cheapens the Today programme and it cheapens the value of academia. Worse than that: it creates amongst the listeners an impression that these unsourced and unjustified views are somehow prevalent, backed-up by research (why else would you find even an 'Affiliate' Professor?) and institutional credibility, thus shifting the parameters of the debate well away from the mainstream without in any indicating this. This is highly misleading, not to say irresponsible. 


Anonymous said...

Good column. I too listened with astonishment and disgust and wondered who this fellow was, so thanks for the info. Are the beeb/Today programm really not responding? Please keep trying - i am sure there waere many listeners who would want to know the answers to the questions you put.

Anonymous said...

News program showcases alternative view. ATTACK!

Unknown said...

This is pretty standard practice for the Beeb when looking for someone to express views which jar with the prevailing leftish views of BBC producers. That is to say find someone who is so undistinguished, extreme or incoherent (preferably all three)that can be guaranteed alienate any who might otherwise be persuaded by more moderate and reasoned argument.