Here’s (from 50:50) pretendy ‘professor’ Jim Gallagher being interviewed on BBC’s Sunday Politics two days ago. In introducing Gallagher, veteran host Gordon Brewer notes that the previous interviewee, Mike Russell MSP, said he (Russell) “made no claims” to being an eminent legal expert. Russell, of course, understands very well that political actors must take care not to wrongly claim eminence in a professional field because that amounts to a serious offence upon the public. Gallagher has no such qualm; or even self-awareness.
Meanwhile, here’s the same Jim Gallagher’s economic eminence not being questioned in another editorialised segment of a UK outlet, The Daily Telegraph. See ’eminent economist’ in the first paragraph.
Here’s Mr Gallagher’s eminence as a Professor of Government not being questioned by the Daily Record. There’s a lot more of this nonsense around, of course, as we’ve flagged over the last week or two here, here and here. We’ve suggested that you can’t really blame the media for being duped by Gallagher’s pretend academic status because his self-promotion and deception is at the same time linguistically subtle yet quite audacious and blatant. Here he is described on the House of Commons ‘Hansard’ public record as; “Professor Jim Gallagher, Nuffield College, Oxford”. And here his is self-described as; “a professor based at Oxford”.
As we’ve explained, Gallagher is not a professor at Oxford, not a fellow of Nuffield College, has never written peer-reviewed academic papers or even studied for a doctorate. Indeed, he seems never to have held a tenured appointment at any level within academia.
Through subtle nuances of language (such as ‘professor based at Oxford’, not actually an Oxford professor), he invites everyone to infer that he is a professor at Oxford who holds an additional visiting post at Glasgow. Look carefully at that Hansard description. It is manifestly untrue, and yet Gallagher has so constructed his self-presentation that he (and only he, surely?) may claim that being a very junior and unpaid, associate, member of Nuffield College almost makes the description true. But wait! Here’s Glasgow University’s definition of a visiting professor; “Visiting Professorships are awarded to those who already hold a chair (or equivalent) in another Higher Education institution”. Indeed, you can see if you read on re: Honorary professorships that Jim Gallagher would indeed once have qualified. But you can also see how that wouldn’t have worked for multiple reappointment nor for future presentation as an eminent academic in many disciplines rather than simply former civil servant. There’s evidence of artifice here too, no?
Professor Gallagher’s status is bogus, pure and simple. He has written a few modest, and designedly highly partial, think-tank pamphlets and allowed everyone to believe that he is an eminent Oxford professor of everything.
There were, however, signs in Gordon Brewer’s programme that the BBC has taken note of the news about Gallagher’s pretend status. He was, for example, referred to throughout the broadcast as ‘Jim’, not ‘professor’. And one senses that, as an experienced newsman, at times Brewer’s reference to Gallagher’s status may have been somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
But the simple fact that Gallagher is still able to appear on television billed not as the experienced, expert, politicised unionist campaigner he is but as a academic suggests that there is something wrong still. Note in the broadcast how Gallagher is asked about a point of law in respect of the Supreme Court’s upcoming consideration of whether to allow the Scottish Government to give evidence. First, he tries to suggest that the Scottish government is looking for a Brexit veto, and is shut down by Brewer. Then it becomes clear that he can’t give Brewer answers on law because he isn’t an ’eminent expert’ on the law at all. He’s an experienced civil servant who knows his way around internal process. He’s on the show to make unionist points. Of course there’s a place in public debate for that; but it isn’t being called on as an impartial and eminent authority on everything from the budget deficit to the Supreme Court.
Journalists need people who can provide comment on sometimes obscure subjects at short notice. We all expect such content when we read the papers. Until now, Jim Gallagher has been on their list as an eminent academic who can be relied upon to expound highly political, pro-unionist views but appear to cover them with the veneer of a very senior scholar. He seemed unusual because real academics are always much more hedged around how they present their findings or expertise because that presentation is all about their precious professional credibility as researchers.
Journos likely had their suspicions about Gallagher’s background but convenience and the duping of two universities my have dealt with those thoughts. Yet whether they did nor not, now they can only use him as a unionist voice with an axe to grind. So give them a chance. Gallagher’s academic standing was subtly reduced on Brewer’s show. Expect other media outlets to follow-on in due course, dropping the pretence and simply presenting him as a campaigner. That’s fine. We shouldn’t, by the way, forget that Gallagher is a former senior civil servant with a wealth of personal experience. So his views are worth listening to. Just as long as they’re correctly labelled.
We have said here that Professor Iain McLean of Oxford University, a real professor, has some questions to answer about Jim Gallagher’s self-presentation as a senior Oxford academic. The risk, we’ve said, is that work with a nakedly political purpose masquerading as high academic work will mislead the public. We thought that perhaps playing fast and loose with academic reputations would discomfit him; make him more honest in his political work as distinct from his previous academic work?
There are many, many examples for Professor McLean to reflect upon. But here’s one. In a House of Lords inquiry in Summer this year, Lord Lang, former Tory Scottish Secretary, introduces Gallagher as; “author of quite a lot of literature on this subject. He has achieved great things since the time he was my Private Secretary”. Gallagher is formally described in the Hansard (last name on at p.139) as; “Professor, Nuffield College, Oxford University”. Of course, the description is entirely misleading, but strikingly at no point does Gallagher, or Lang, mention Gallagher’s real role as a unionist campaigner. And of course Lang’s ‘a lot of literature’ is however grand-sounding simply a reference to a few unionist think-tank pamphlets. Contrast this with a genuine professor, also a unionist and Tory actually, who gave evidence to the same inquiry. Professor Adam Tomkins MSP makes his status as a political actor clear at the beginning of his evidence. Like Mike Russell, and real academics, he understands the importance of transparency. Gallagher does the opposite.
So has McLean changed his tune? No such luck. Here he is last week, alongside ‘professor’ Gallagher, giving evidence as academics to the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee on the Irish border/Brexit issue. See how the evidence looks like the product of academic research but actually simply amounts to the personal political opinion of two campaigning Scottish unionists looking to exploit the read-across between Ireland and Scotland? The Irish border issue has killed the Scottish one, of course. They want to resurrect the sense of risk. That’s not professorial – that’s just politics, pure and simple.
Cheeky boys, Professor McLean and our Jim.
Readers might consider asking Glasgow and Oxford Universities if they think they’ve missed something. And maybe ask @profjimg (the clue’s in the name….) if he might consider giving real academics a break and come clean?
But maybe in the end it’s simply a case of good-old unionists together in defence of right wing English politician’s rights to remove Scots’ EU citizenships and switch public spending away from human welfare and into corporate welfare? If so, let’s not let them fool us every time.