Barry McSweeney

This article first appeared on the front page of the Sunday Independent on October 9. 2005.

In the months after it’s publication it gave rise to some 60 subsequent follow up pieces in various media outlets and resulted in questions being put to Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister), Bertie Ahern, in the Irish Parliament (Dail). The Chief Science Advisor Barry McSweeney, pictured above-left, eventually resigned. This was named as one of the news stories of the year by several publications. Links at end of piece.

Chief Science Advisor to government holds bogus qualification

The chief scientific advisor to the government obtained his doctorate from an online ‘diploma mill’ based in California. Barry McSweeney was appointed in June of last year by Mary Harney and has responsibility for providing the government with independent expert advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation, including investment in theses areas and analysis of innovations in science.

Pacific Western University (PWU), which granted Mr McSweeney his PhD in biotechnology/biochemistry has no merit in the academic world and at the time he gained the qualification was not recognised by the US Department of Education. Despite this fact, Barry McSweeney is consistently referred to as ‘Dr’, including in all government press releases. Pacific Western University’s own website describes its PhD degree programme as useful ‘for gaining notoriety in your chosen field’. It has been sued by Hawaii State and Oregon State for violating consumer protection laws and has been described by the United States Government Accountability Office as a ‘diploma mill.’ Another case, again taken by Hawaii State, is still pending against the ‘university’.

The Swedish Government’s National Agency For Higher Education also listed it in a report entitled ‘Fake universities and Bogus Degrees – Sweden and The World’ and it has been the subject of numerous exposes in the American media. Many of the objections to PWU’s programme relates to its academic standards. A PhD in biochemistry from UCD or Trinity would take an average of four years to complete and would have to involve an original piece of scientific research suitable for peer-reviewed publication and examined by international experts. McSweeney did not attend PWU as there is no campus and his official CV shows that achieved his PhD in one year. PhDs of the type obtained by Barry McSweeney from PWU are usually obtained by employees in an attempt to give their CV a sheen of academic credibility and gain promotion.

In America the salaries of some community college teachers have been cut after it emerged that they gained their qualification from PWU. A report in Pacific Business News said of PWU ‘in the academic world it’s just about as useless as it can be.’ A spokeswoman for the Office of The Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government told me that PWU was a well-respected university and that Barry McSweeney was proud of his doctorate. She also pointed to the fact that the government’s chief science advisor has ‘enormous life experience’ and had previously headed up a research institute, which provides advice to the European Commission.

Most senior scientists working in areas related to research have PhD and it is a qualification that would be expected to appear on the CV of a government science advisor. By contrast with Barry McSweeney, his British equivalent, Sir David King holds a doctorate from Cambridge University. Similarly, the American Chief Science Advisor, John Marburger obtained his PhD in applied physics from Stanford, a world-renowned Ivy League university. Both also hold professorships, which is the next academic step up from a doctorate.

In recent months Barry McSweeney has spoken out on ‘the need to attract the best brains into science careers’ and has argued for more postgraduate research in science. The fact that he himself does not have a doctorate from a properly accredited university but still uses the title ‘Dr’ affects the credibility of his office and raises serious questions over the factors, which influenced his appointment.


~ by Donal Lynch on February 29, 2008.

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