News // 25.11.2015 // Curated by Ed.

Knowing Ourselves: Independence and public research

Employing an oft-used phrase, it’s probably fair to say that most New Zealanders are grateful for the NZ Police.  As a human institution, they’re not perfect.  But in the main they spend each day doing their level best to keep us safe.  With some of the lowest recorded levels of corruption in the world, we can generally be really proud of the force we have.  They see us at our worst and our most grief-stricken.  Despite that, they are relentless in serving our communities and continue to give, give, give.  These men and women have been let down today by their own department.

What’s wrong?

In a column which appeared in the New Zealand Herald, respected researcher Dr Jarrod Gilbert reported that NZ Police have deemed him unfit to conduct research and on that basis was refusing him access to uncontroversial Police data.  The full account can be found here.  Worse, it appears that those researchers who are granted access hand over veto rights of any research project findings.

In section 8 of a NZ Police Research Agreement, entitled “Gain Approval for Release”, clause 8.2 reads:

“8 acheter viagra generique.2. NZ Police retain sole right to veto any project findings.”

Why should you care?

  1. In order for us to do better as a nation, we need to learn from our mistakes.  In order to learn from them, we need to know about them.
  2. Academics play a key role in our development as a country as their work informs what is taught to our learners and young people today and into the future.
  3. It undermines the credibility of any positive research findings showing where NZ Police are doing a great job, which should be particularly annoying for those people on the front line.
  4. As a taxpayer you’re paying for the researchers to produce something independent and accurate – that means the good and the not-so-good.

It should be about accuracy

Some of the other stuff in the contract is perfectly reasonable.  Opportunity for NZ Police to comment on research?  Fine.  It’s true that sometimes data can be misinterpreted and so it’s in everyone’s interests, including the academics’, that NZ Police have the opportunity to provide their view.

Explanations for why NZ Police feedback hasn’t been incorporated?  Also fine.  Academics need to be as accountable for their decisions as NZ Police.

However, sole right of veto and a potentially endless feedback loop “until such time as NZ Police grant the right to release the Project findings”?  Not ok.

The only reasonable explanation for these restrictions seems to be about managing the public relations impact of negative research findings.  The completeness of the knowledge our researchers are creating is more important than that – as is our confidence in researchers when they say our public institutions are doing a good job.  The provisions of the contract should be about ensuring accuracy, rather than supporting a public relations objective.

In Dr Gilbert’s case, the NZ Police have indicated they are reviewing their decision to deny him access.  They should just apologise and let the man get on with his job.  But this is a much bigger issue as it goes to the heart of what we know about ourselves as a nation, what’s working, what isn’t and how we can get better.

No public institution should have sole right of veto on publicly-funded research findings.  Hopefully it’s fair to say most New Zealanders agree with that.