UCL Centre for Digital Humanities


UCLDH seminar: 'Excellence is Bullshit'

23 November 2016, 5:30 pm–6:30 pm

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UCL Centre for Digital Humanities
Gower Street
United Kingdom

"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 technical terms, defined with precision. In reality an occasional effort is made to define these terms, but in use this precision fails. Their deployment in guidelines, assessment criteria, and mission statements often 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.

Cameron Neylon will argue that the rhetorical and political power of excellence as a concept 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 therefore up to us to change them.

The slides from this talk are available online.

All welcome and there will be drinks and discussion after the talk. Please note that registration is required.


Cameron Neylon is Professor of Research Communication at the Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University. He is interested in how to make the internet more effective as a tool for scholarship. He writes and speaks regularly on scholarly communication, the design of web based tools for research, and the need for policy and cultural change within and around the research community.

Cameron Neylon is a one-time biomedical scientist who has moved into the humanities via Open Access and Open Data advocacy. His research and broader work focusses on how we can make the institutions that support research sustainable and fit for purpose for the 21st century and how the advent of new communications technology is a help (and in some cases a hindrance) for this.