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NZ Taxpayers Funding Poor-Quality Research

NZ Taxpayers Funding Poor-Quality Research

New Zealander taxpayers should be concerned that publicly-funded universities may be more focused on risk management than high-quality research and education.

I recently presented a public critique of numerous scholarship problems in the latest book on crime in New Zealand by Professor Greg Newbold of the University of Canterbury Sociology department. He responded by dismissing nit-picking and failing to address the issues raised.

Two weeks later, the university issued a press release praising the book and its place as a core text of their new Bachelor of Criminal Justice degree. As the only New Zealand-specific criminal justice text, it matters to both students and the general public if it is a flawed book.

The critique took place at a public event entitled ‘Panel on Rape Culture and Silencing’ on 6 October 2016 at the University of Canterbury. Eight panellists including myself from the university and Christchurch community organisations discussed concepts around rape culture, including rape myths and the high prevalence of sexual violence in New Zealand (24% of adult women and 6% of adult men).

Several problems with the book were highlighted, including a lack of sources, misleading or unsupported conclusions, overgeneralisations, correlation not causation errors, and potential ethnic bias related to Māori communities.

The most glaring was thirteen citations of Wikipedia articles, which academics are not supposed to use because the information is constantly edited and comes from anonymous writers of unknown qualifications. In particular, several parts of the book relied on data from the “Corruption in New Zealand” Wikipedia article, almost all of which has since been deleted for quality control issues.

Regarding rape culture, a major issue in the book was the reliance on one quotation from one police officer in a 2004 newspaper article to substantiate a myth that most sexual abuse complaints are false.

The University of Canterbury’s own Te Awatea Violence Research Centre published an article in its journal Te Awatea Review in 2010 refuting this myth. It pointed to outdated thinking that portrays women as deceitful and media emphasis for perpetuating the myth. It also reiterated how harmful it is to survivors seeking justice and help, and to the community (police, doctors, juries, family, etc.) whose attitudes are negatively shaped by misinformation.

This is not the first time questions have been raised about Professor Newbold’s work, either. A 2004 article in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology found “discredited stereotypes of women, emotive-persuasive appeals to popular prejudices and inferences drawn from small bites of decontextualised data” in an earlier book. It seems to be an ongoing problem.

Students deserve to attend a university that values high-quality research and education, that acknowledges when there are lapses and seeks to remedy them. If a public critique of an academic’s work by other academics is not enough to prompt an honest reflection, perhaps the taxpayers who fund this criminal justice research need to ask why.

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