GM McSweeney bites the dust (21/11/2005)

Dr. Barry McSweeney, the Chief Scientific Officer of Ireland has been given the push over his use of a fake PhD to obtain his job. Many will feel he got his rightful come uppance for his attempt to cover-up an official EU study on the risks of GMO crops.

GM Free Ireland point out that Dr. McSweeney, who at one time headed BioResearch Ireland which aimed to develop Irish biotech companies, was CEO of the EU Joint Research Centre immediately prior to assuming his Chief Scientific Officer post in 2004.

"While head of that organisation, McSweeney attempted to suppress the publication of the EC's official 'Scenarios for Co-existence' report on the feasibility of introducing GM crops in EU member states. The European Commission ordered the study in May 2000 from the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, which is a branch of the European Union Joint Research Centre.

"The study concludes that GM crops inevitably contaminate conventional and organic crops and may cause 40% higher production costs for EU farmers. It states that all farmers would face high additional, in some cases unsustainable costs of production if genetically modified crops were commercially grown in a large scale in Europe.

Mr McSweeney wrote to the EC recommending that the report should not be made public, stating "given the sensitivity of the issue, I would suggest that the report be kept for internal use within the Commission only."

Scandal forces out Irish science head
Chief science advisor pushed from the post over questions about where he got his doctorate
By Stephen Pincock
The Scientist, Nov 21 2005

Ireland's first government science advisor, who has been in the post for little more than a year, was forced to leave the job last week in the face of repeated questions about whether he obtained his PhD from a "diploma mill."

Barry McSweeney, a biochemist, was appointed to the job of Chief Science Advisor in June 2004, fresh from running the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), where he managed 2500 staff across 7 institutes. He was also responsible for the EU's Marie Curie mobility program. Previously he had been director of BioResearch Ireland, and had broad industrial experience. He had a bachelor's degree from University College Cork, and a Masters degree from Trinity College Dublin.

But in early October it emerged that a PhD he acquired in 1992 was awarded by Pacific Western University (PWU) in Los Angeles, an institution that featured in a recent GAO investigation into federal employees who gained degrees at "diploma mills and other unaccredited schools." (The phrase "diploma mill" refers to schools where degrees are bought, more than earned.)

The Oregon Office of Degree Authorization also describes PWU as an unaccredited college. "ODA has no evidence that this is an accredited or otherwise acceptable provider of postsecondary education meeting Oregon standards," according to the office's Web site.

In a statement to the media in late October, a spokeswoman for McSweeney's office said he "absolutely refutes any allegation that he purchased a PhD." McSweeney has not, however, given permission for his thesis to be made publicly available.

John Scott, professor of biochemistry at Trinity College Dublin told The Scientist that no one in Irish academia questions that taking a degree from PWU "was a serious error" in judgment. "It was unfortunate that he did get involved in this," Scott said, adding that it was inevitable that the affair would generate some irritation among researchers. "I think it is very difficult for some guy who had just spent 4 or 5 years getting a PhD to accept—it's a bitter pill to swallow that somebody [in McSweeney's position] did it by an easier route."

But the question of whether the PhD had any impact on McSweeney's ability to do the job of Scientific Advisor is a different matter, Scott argued. "If you look at his career as a science administrator, it was patently very successful and I think that was what the government was looking for [when they hired him]. Did he need a PhD to do this? I think he didn't - it is a liaison, spokesman, interfacing type of post."

On Tuesday (November 15), after 5 weeks of pressure in the media and in the Irish parliament, the minister for enterprise, Micheal Martin, said in a statement that McSweeney would be moving from the Science Advisor job to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources where he would be Research Coordinator.

Martin said that "in his position as Chief Science Adviser, Barry McSweeney has been effective in bringing stakeholders together and forging links across the Science, Technology and Innovation spectrum. His achievements during his time in the position fully reflect the drive and enthusiasm which has been the hallmark of his career, both in Ireland and Europe."

McSweeney could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment told The Scientist that the government would be advertising to find a replacement for McSweeney. The post will be filled by open competition, although the details of the salary and so on are not yet available, she said. "We expect there will be an appointment in the new year."

Links for this article

Statement by Minister Micheal Martin http://www.entemp.ie/press/2005/20051115a.htm

Barry McSweeney

"Irish boost investment in biotech," The Scientist, April 4, 1988.

"Diploma Mills: Federal Employees have obtained degrees from diploma mills and other unaccredited schools, some at government expense," May 11, 2004.

Office of Degree Authorization

M. Clark,"Ireland's chief science advisor denies buying his PhD," Electric News, October 20, 2004. http://www.enn.ie/news.html?code=9650030

John Scott

D. Payne, "Ireland wants to draw US brains," The Scientist, May 25, 2004.

Barry McSweeney to be Appointed as Research Coordinator in DCMNR http://www.dcmnr.gov.ie/Press+Releases/Barry+McSweeney+to+be+Appointed+as+Research+Coordinator+in+DCMNR.htm

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