Monthly Archives: November 2012

a Potemkin village on the Web

I have been trawling round lots of UK university websites, principally those of the Russell Group, this week.  There’s a rather discouraging uniformity to many of them and I felt that the sight of another group of cheerful students clustered round a laptop would make me feel positively ill.  A surprising number of the sites concealed the name of the institution so it wasn’t easy to find.  Some deliberately broke the mould by displaying a main picture of far-flung research, such as a graduate student standing on a glacier in New Zealand.  A common trait was trumpeting a high position in a league table of universities compiled by a national newspaper or survey or (where possible) in the ‘World’s Top 100’ universities  There are so many tables and categories that there’s likely to be one to suit any reasonably good institution!

As regards look and feel, I liked Birmingham’s the best, though the one I browsed around most for pleasure was Liverpool’s, which had links to news releases and blog posts by its staff. (One of which admittedly said ‘I haven’t worked out how to write a blog without getting into trouble!’)

However what I was really after was information on research data management. I used this as a search term in the web sites of Russell Group universities and a few others, with interesting results.  I’ll share here a couple of things I found which won’t make it into my official report.  One was the Russell Group university which seems to equate research data management with using EndNote(!), at least to judge by the references to it on their site.

I was at first more impressed with the ‘Research Data Management homepage’ of another university (not in the Russell Group), which bristled with links, noting ‘This university means business!’    I returned to the page later and started to follow the links.  Almost all of them led you away to other sites such the DCC’s or other parts of the University.  The ‘news’ was all culled from elsewhere; the most recent news item was two months old and related to a court case involving a Hollywood actor!   The blog had a single posting, over three months old.  A ‘Learn More’ link just took you back to the same page.  Some dummy text could still be found on some of the pages.  There was some generalised information about research data on the home page, but nothing specific about the University’s own provision, such as whether it had a research data management policy or a dedicated repository.  I imagine that this site is intended mainly as a placemarker until more detailed information becomes available, but in its own way it does a very impressive job of disguising its absence – the Web equivalent of a Potemkin village, or of the lengthy football report I once read which concealed the fact that the two matches the local team were due to play that week had both been postponed.