15 December 2012

Science on Saturday

Has anyone seen this article about KAUST that was published a week ago in the journal Science?  It definitely does not give the best view of the university.  This article has definitely made more than a few people angry.  For me, what is most maddening, is that Science chose to interview people that have either left KAUST or who have never actually worked for KAUST.  The interviews of senior professors and administrators that got their big fat oil paychecks and then retired, leaving KAUST when it is just growing, do not accurately represent what is currently taking place at the university.  For instance, Jim Luyten, former Center Director of the Red Sea Research Center left KAUST a year ago!  For a university that is just three years old, there will be many fluctuations in policy, administration, finance, etc over the course of a year.  Why would Science choose to interview a retiree that hasn't worked at KAUST in a year, if not to just try to find negative responses?  In addition, Science interviewed KAUST's collaborators such as members from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.  Personally, I really like Amy Bower, she is a very nice woman, but there have been many issues with collaborators such as WHOI and Science does not delve into these issues.  Most notably, many foreign institutes have sought to "collaborate" with KAUST but they consider collaboration to be "KAUST pays for our research and we do whatever we want."  It is well known within the scientific community that KAUST has the big bucks.  We have the fanciest equipment and up until just a month ago, all sequencing services were provided free of charge.  So many "collaborators" around the world have popped up wanting money but then not wanting to actually cooperate with KAUST's terms such as forming partnerships with KAUST PIs or giving back to the community.  Don't get me wrong, there are many issues with our new university and there are some days where I am really frustrated and want to get the heck out of here, but there are also many great things going on here and I just think that Science should choose its interviews carefully to really capture the whole picture.  I mean if a journal such as Science is biased, what does that mean for our community?


  1. I didn't read the article, but that sounds incredibly frustrating. Something sort of similar (but not really, I guess!) happened when I taught in Abu Dhabi. The newspapers interviewed disgruntled teachers who had left. While some of their issues were valid, it just sort of made the rest of us sound petty and spoiled. However, now that I think of it, our contracts stated that we were not allowed to speak to the media. Is there something similar for KAUST faculty or researchers?

    I hope another article will surface highlighting the good work that you know is happening.

    1. Yes, it sounds like you were in a totally similar situation. I mean, don't get me wrong, there are some really frusturating things going on here as there are in all parts of the region, but also I think that foreign journalists are quick to pick up on the negative points just because that is what is "hot" in the news right now. Everyone is excited about the Arab Spring and it seems that the media is quick to point out any flaws in any and all systems and bureaucracies over here before actually capturing the entire picture. I would just like to see any other university in its third year of existence and ask them how they are doing.

      I don't specifically remember a clause in my contract stating that I cannot speak to the media. I do remember there are many bits about being "respectful to the local culture" and not breaking any "codes of conduct", but I do not think that talking to the media is a violation of contracts. There were some folks interviewed in the Science article that do still work at KAUST, though they were few and their comments were very minimal and not highlighted other than to be used as mockery by the Science journalist.

  2. While I'm sure there are many happy KAUST employees, I can assure you there are also many unhappy ones, past and present. And while their circumstances may all be different, there are also growing trends and pockets of dysfunction that are not being adequately dealt with. This is probably true of many institutions. The difference here, is that people pack up their lives and take their kids out of their schools and away from their friends, to move to a foreign country, on a few empty promises and the mostly positive propaganda they find online. They have a right to know what REALLY to expect before they make such a massive decision, and this kind of article is important as an equalizing influence. In fact, in my personal opinion, the article was extremely kind, and if you are feeling angry about it, chances are you are one of the lucky ones and have had a fairly positive experience (so far).