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The third degree

Back page gossip from the 23 September issue of Research Fortnight

Viral video

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time for David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham and outgoing chair of the Universities Superannuation Scheme, to make a video explaining the changes made to reopen Birmingham’s Edgbaston campus safely during the pandemic.

However, when the video was released online on 16 September, it provoked howls of laughter. In particular, giggles were directed at Eastwood’s description of a branded facemask as “great marketing for the university”.

The Twitter account Accidental Partridge—dedicated to unselfconscious public pronouncements in the style of Steve Coogan’s comic character—produced its own edit, complete with a soaring soundtrack. The official university video was pulled. 

The university’s press office told us the video had not been taken down due to widespread mockery of the vice-chancellor but because of “online bullying of a junior member of staff”.

Eastwood’s executive assistant Charlotte featured in the video. In one scene, he enters her office and says: “Charlotte, you’re not at your desk. Why are you not at your desk?”

“I’m not vice-chancellor,” replies Charlotte, standing next to an open window. She explains it is not possible to socially distance while visitors walk through her office on their way to Eastwood’s room. So when people enter, she leaves her desk and opens the window for ventilation. Eastwood says this arrangement is “a good example of the constant adjustments we will need to make”, before exiting into his own, apparently unadjusted office.

The scene gave rise to the Twitter hashtag #FreeCharlotte. One commentator was University and College Union general secretary Jo Grady, who said: “Being on campus means Charlotte has to spend winter stood up by an open window so people can visit the vice-chancellor in his office. Funny how the ‘constant adjustments *we* will need to make’ are far worse for some than others, isn’t it?”

In a statement the university said: “The video is part of a series of private videos for staff about safety measures…We are disappointed by the way in which portions of the video have been deliberately misrepresented.”

110 per cent effort

Baroness Harding—or Dido, Queen of Carnage, as she was known when chief executive of TalkTalk—told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on 17 September that “for a couple of days in the last week, our [testing] laboratories have run at over 100 per cent capacity, which we’re very concerned about.” The government’s Covid-19 testing tsar, who is thought to be in the running to replace Simon Stevens as head of NHS England, ought to be concerned by this seeming breach of the laws of arithmetic.

Global Vandemic

Coronavirus “pseudoscience” sceptic Van Morrison has released a “protest song” called No More Lockdown. “No more threats/No more Imperial College scientists making up crooked facts,” he sings. Van Morrison was awarded an honorary doctorate by Queen’s University Belfast in 2001.