Ethics and the role of judgement

Kara, Helen

Helen Kara

Helen Kara is the author of Research ethics in the real world: Euro-Western and indigenous perspectives, out today.

“I have been fascinated by ethics since long before I became a researcher. Like most of my contemporaries (and no doubt many others too), I was brought up to believe that fairness was worth striving for.

Working for the statutory and third sectors in the 1980s and 90s involved a lot of talk about equal opportunities (as it was termed in those days). These raised questions that interested me from an early age. What is fair? What is equal? Who decides?

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an article last month suggesting that scholars should stop citing the work of ‘bad people’ (everyone from sexual harassers to fully paid-up Nazis). The basis of this article was a judgement that if someone is identified as a ‘bad person’, we can all stop citing their work, and so, presumably, feel pleased with ourselves for making the world a slightly better place. This approach is problematic in a number of ways. First, it is actually only possible to stop citing the work of people you know to be in some way ‘bad’. If someone has been convicted of a heinous crime then, arguably, fair enough – though not all convictions are safe. If they have been accused of a crime? That is even more problematic if you subscribe to the notion of ‘innocent until proven guilty’. And whatever criteria you use, you can’t escape the fact that you are still likely to cite some ‘bad people’: from criminals who go uncaught to people who are just generally unpleasant.

Also, findings from research conducted in horrific ways by some of the very worst of ‘bad people’ have been later used to save lives. There is a wide difference of opinion about whether this can ever be justified. Some scholars think not; it is simply too repugnant to be OK to use such data in any circumstances. Others think that the harm has been done, and cannot be undone, so why not use the existing results for good?

Research ethics committees have to make judgements about ethical aspects of research, and these too can be really challenging. People who sit on research ethics committees are generally people who work hard to be ethical and to help others think and act ethically. However, committee members may be constrained by institutional and/or legislative requirements.

“How can any social researcher judge whether or not a participant has a mental health problem, or uses illicit drugs, or lives with a chronic but invisible disability?”

A few days after the Chronicle ran its article, I heard about a student’s ethical approval application being rejected on several grounds, one of which was that they could not guarantee individual participants would not be members of vulnerable groups. While the application may have had a number of flaws, this ground for rejection worries me deeply. How can any social researcher judge whether or not a participant has a mental health problem, or uses illicit drugs, or lives with a chronic but invisible disability? These factors are not self-evident, and I cannot see how it would be ethical to ask every potential participant a string of intrusive personal questions to find out. Also, if we did that, it would exclude people from participating in research: people who are already marginalised, who may rarely have the chance to be listened to attentively by another human being, and whose voices are insufficiently heard in the wider world.

“…part of the answer is for us all to learn to think and act more ethically.”

I can see that both the judgement advocated in the article, and the judgement made by the committee, were intended to be ethical. I think I have demonstrated that in each case, the situation is too complex to be effectively addressed by such a straightforward judgement. What, then, are we to do? In my view, part of the answer is for us all to learn to think and act more ethically. It may help if we remember that research is built on academic foundations of elitism and exclusion. Of course there may at times still be occasional grounds for exclusion, but in general might it not be more worthwhile to work towards more inclusive research practice? Rather than trying to complete the impossible task of compiling a definitive list of ‘bad people’ to exclude, we could judge worthy of inclusion more scholars of colour, queer scholars, scholars with disabilities, scholars from Indigenous communities, and so on. And perhaps we could judge the perspectives of so-called ‘vulnerable people’ as valuable, for they may have a great deal to teach us, if only we can learn to listen.

 

Research ethics in the real world [FC] RGBResearch ethics in the real world by Helen Kara is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £17.59.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Bristol University Press and Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Documenting media bias and lies in Simon Wren-Lewis’ new book

2015-03-07 16.50.01 full

Simon Wren-Lewis

Simon Wren-Lewis, author of The Lies We Were Told, out today, talks about his anger at austerity and how this and other key events of recent times have been impacted by media bias and lies.

“Many of the key events of the last eight years have a common thread to them. In the case of austerity, the Eurozone crisis, the 2015 UK election, the Brexit vote in the UK and Trump’s election, the media played a critical role in making them happen. This involved ignoring expertise, ignoring facts that didn’t fit the chosen narrative of one side, or simple lies. None of these events are mistakes only in hindsight, but rather errors that were predicted at the time. Documenting that is an important part of this book.

It was for that reason that I tell the story through my blog posts at the time, with additional postscripts, preambles and introductions that enable each chapter to tell a complete story. There seemed no better way of showing how all of these policy or electoral errors were understood at the time and therefore could easily have been avoided.

“I began writing my blog mainlymacro because of my anger at austerity.”

I began writing my blog mainlymacro because of my anger at austerity, and the fact that the view of the majority of macroeconomists that it was a bad idea was largely ignored by the media. When the media did talk to economists, they tended to be from the financial sector. Financial sector economists are biased in two directions: they tend to be right wing and they tend to talk up the importance of a capricious financial market and their ability to know its ‘needs’. I used the term ‘mediamacro’ to describe how most of the media seemed happy to tell the story of the deficit as if the government was a household, which any first year undergraduate textbook explains is not true.

Many used the Eurozone crisis as an excuse for austerity, but I quickly discovered that the line most journalists took was missing the key reason for that crisis. Eurozone countries cannot create their own currency, and the institution that could act as an unlimited lender of last resort to individual governments, the European Central Bank, was refusing to do so. The crisis ended when the Eurozone changed this policy and became a lender of last resort to most countries. The exception was Greece, and I tell their more complex but shocking story in a few posts.

“Adapting an old Sun headline, I argued it was mediamacro wot won it, although luck also played its part.”

Before the UK’s 2015 election the Conservatives talked about a strong economy, and talked up rising employment levels. The media went along with this narrative. In reality the recovery from the recession had been the weakest for centuries, in good part because of the policy mistake of immediate austerity. Strong employment growth combined with weak output growth meant productivity was stagnant, which in turn helped create falling real wages. Yet for mediamacro the government’s deficit was a more important goal of policy than economic growth or real wage growth, and as a result the economy was the Conservatives strong card that led them to victory at the election. Adapting an old Sun headline, I argued it was mediamacro wot won it, although luck also played its part.

Defeat in 2015 led to Jeremy Corbyn being elected as leader of the Labour party. Although this took the commentariat by surprise, I argued it was the logical result of Labour’s weak or non-existent stand against austerity and a lot of what austerity required. When John McDonnell became shadow Chancellor, he invited me to be part of an Economic Advisory Council, and I explain how this led me to help create Labour’s fiscal rule, which is the first such rule that prevents austerity. I also explain why the Council came to an end.

“A consequence of the Conservatives winning in 2015 was a referendum on Brexit.”

A consequence of the Conservatives winning in 2015 was a referendum on Brexit. A few months before I wrote a post reproduced in the book which fairly accurately set out how the campaign would play out. Remain’s case was that leaving the EU would have serious economic consequences, and it was a very strong case, but I suggested the media would balance this case against nonsense from Leavers, and the electorate could convince themselves that the economics was not clear cut. The fact that free movement prevented controlling immigration from the EU was by contrast clear cut, but as the government had played up the negative aspects of immigration they could not credibly change course.

Alas the media’s failed to present near unanimous expert opinion in economics and elsewhere as knowledge, and instead it became just Remain’s opinion to be balanced by the other side. As a result the electorate, who craved information about the EU, did not get it from the broadcast media. In addition, those that read most of the daily papers by readership got propaganda pure and simple, and had been getting it for a year at least. I present strong evidence at how influential the media can be, and therefore argue that Brexit represented the triumph of the right wing press. I showed that the media were failing in similar ways in the US, and that therefore confidence that Trump would not get elected could be misplaced,

The book also has a chapter on the role of economists in influencing policy. Did the global financial crisis or the failures of macroeconomic forecasting discredit economics, and is macroeconomics influenced by ideology? I explain why the delegation of economic decisions can be partly about transparency, and why economics is most like medicine among the sciences.

“While the media played an important role in Trump becoming President and Brexit it does not explain why those things are happening now rather than ten or twenty years ago.”

While the media played an important role in Trump becoming President and Brexit it does not explain why those things are happening now rather than ten or twenty years ago. The final chapter in the book looks at what neoliberalism is, and why both austerity and using fear of immigration to gain votes despite austerity can be seen as neoliberal overreach, by which I mean taking deception of the electorate in order to pursue ideological goals to a dangerous extreme. Both austerity and anti-immigration feeling helped the cause of Brexit and helped elect Trump.

The Global Financial Crisis required a strong and quick recovery to avoid the dangers of populism. Austerity prevented a strong recovery, and it was undertaken as a cynical attempt to reduce the size of the state. The subsequent populist mood was directed towards the right by politicians and the media playing on racism and xenophobic fears. This was fertile ground for disasters like Brexit and Trump to happen. This suggests that even if we could go back to the world as it was before Brexit and Trump that is not enough to stop similar disasters happening again.

The Lies We Were Told FCThe Lies We Were Told by Simon Wren-Lewis is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Bristol University Press and Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Sustainable Open Access and Impact: Celebrating OA Week

Julia Mortimer

Julia Mortimer

We are delighted to be a part of the Open Access Week celebrations and to be able to showcase OA content and initiatives at Bristol University Press and Policy Press. Journals and OA Director, Julia Mortimer, explains why.

Our OA books and recent articles are all brought together to view and access here.

Why OA is important for us

Our vision is to create and disseminate critically acclaimed, evidence-based work that has the potential to make a difference in the world. Over the past two decades we have built a reputation dedicated to that vision.

We have set our sights on publishing great scholarship that addresses the global social challenges and broader social science issues that face the world community today. A commitment to OA is crucial to this vision for the following reasons:

Visibility & impact: OA makes research more widely and easily visible to researchers, practitioners and policy makers if the content is discoverable and efficiently marketed.

Collaboration: OA publication fosters greater dialogue across disciplinary and geographical boundaries.

Social Justice: OA reduces inequalities in access to knowledge due to lack of institutional funding.

As a publisher committed to making an impact in the real world, sustainable open access has obvious benefits for us and our authors in reaching our goals. Authors can make their work accessible, safe in the knowledge that our rigorous quality standards, excellent marketing services and strong reputation will still apply.

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What we offer

We offer a range of flexible open access options for both journals and book publishing which continue to evolve, and we are always interested in working with our authors to explore new ideas.

Both Green and Gold options are available for all our journal and book content and we are flexible to allow for funder compliance. See our open access options for books and open access options for journals for more information.

For journals our OA content is available to access on our IngentaConnect platform where it is clearly signposted.

For books we make our OA content available via OAPEN and JSTOR and we are delighted to be a part of the Knowledge Unlatched collections which are funded by libraries.

We offer discounts on our standard APCs to researchers in developing countries and to those in institutions who subscribe to our journal collections.

We are also working with a range of partners to improve OA metadata distribution and discoverability of our OA content, an important issue in current OA debates.

A sustainable model of OA publishing in the social sciences

At Bristol University Press and Policy Press we work hard to make as much content open as possible, whilst ensuring that we can cover the necessary costs involved in a high-quality publishing operation and the all-important marketing, promotion and discoverability activities needed to ensure OA content can be found. This is a crucial balancing act and a question of ensuring publishing OA is sustainable in an uncertain funding environment. Most importantly, it also gives authors a choice and equitable opportunity to publication when OA funds and routes may not be easily accessible, and they need to publish in publications and with publishers of high repute.

The OA agenda has been led by STM disciplines but, in our view, initiatives like Plan S are not easily applicable to the social sciences where funding models are currently much less clear. This is why we are committed to a mixed model of OA/non-OA publishing at this point in time.

OA and free content initiatives

We have experimented with innovative approaches to OA and free content to ensure our content reaches its intended audiences. Much of our journal content is free, either on a permanent basis for sections like Debates and Issues or Voices from the Frontline, or via Most read and Editor’s Choice collections which are free for regular periods during the year.

Many of our Shorts, designed to meet the needs of busy policy makers and practitioners, are OA, they are brief, and free to share to influence policy and practice.

Short open access

For our book Being a scholar in the digital era, chapters were free to access on a monthly basis for the first year and the whole book available OA thereafter. As no OA funding was available, this allowed us to simultaneously cover the publishing costs whilst also making content open.

We provide Executive Summaries for many of our books which are freely available and especially useful for policy makers and practitioners to make use of research findings.

In addition to these and many other impact-focused activities we have just launched a brand-new blog on the Futures of Work to stimulate debate, ideas and interaction.

Bristol University Press and Policy Press are also a main sponsor of the highly successful social research blog Discover Society. Our authors are actively encouraged to share their work through writing blogs, magazine features and newspaper articles, to disseminate their work widely but often more accessibly than straightforward OA can.

 

Please explore all the OA and freely available content that Bristol University Press has to offer and contact Julia Mortimer (email julia.mortimer@bristol.ac.uk) to discuss OA options for your work.

Can academics help cities innovate?

Robin Hambleton portrait pic

Robin Hambleton

Robin Hambleton, author of Leading the Inclusive City, reports on how Bristol’s innovations in city governance are seen abroad and on how academic analysis can contribute to policy-making.

In the summer the City of Bristol was shortlisted for the International Award of European Capital of Innovation 2018.  The iCapital award goes, in theory at least, to the city within Europe that is considered by international experts to be the most innovative.  The winner of this competition will be announced on 6 November.

The European iCapital award emulates, in many ways, the European Green Capital Award . This international prize, which recognises the important role of local authorities and local stakeholders in improving the environment, has now reached its tenth birthday.  Bristol won this accolade in 2015, and the Bristol iCapital bid sought to build on this achievement.

Are these international awards important?  In an era of rampant, self-serving, city promotion, or ‘city boosterism’ as it is known in the USA, it can be argued that these awards might be in danger of rewarding cities with effective marketing departments, rather than substantive achievements.

Moreover, critics argue that international competition between cities can distort local decision-making. They claim that city leaders pursuing these prizes can lose touch with the need to focus on the effective local delivery of vital public services for local communities.

There is force in these arguments. Much depends on the rigour deployed by the organisations making these awards and on the way individual cities approach the bid process, should they choose to compete.

In the case of European iCapital the EU operates a pretty sturdy evaluation process.  It requires all applicant cities to submit fairly detailed bids. An independent, international jury assesses these bids against specified criteria. Shortlisted cities are then required to send a team of representatives to Brussels to present their proposal to the jury in person, and the team is then cross-examined on the content of their bid.

I should declare an interest.  Ideas set out in my book, Leading the Inclusive City on how to develop place-based leadership, have contributed to the development of the One City Approach to city governance now being implemented in Bristol. These ideas featured quite boldly in the iCapital bid and Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, invited me to join his team presenting the Bristol bid to the jury of evaluators in Brussels last month.  This was a nerve-racking but rewarding experience.

This year Bristol was the only UK city to make it into the group of twelve ‘finalist’ cities. An announcement by the EU last week indicated that Bristol has not made it into the last six cities. This latest news is  disappointing for those who worked on the bid.

However, there are, perhaps, three main reasons why participating in respected, international competitions of this kind is a good idea for cities.

First, the process of preparing and delivering a good submission can, in itself, help civic leaders clarify their thinking, improve their ideas and develop their strategies. Second, raising the visibility of your city in national and international circles is now recognised as an important task for modern city leadership.  This is not just because a good reputation can attract potential investors and talented people, it can also raise local confidence and self-esteem.  Third, some cities actually win these awards, and the funds can be used to enhance the quality of life of those living in the winning cities.

The Bristol iCapital bid places the city in a small group of cities within Europe that are seen, by independent experts, as highly innovative. In my view, to reach the final stage of this international competition reflects well on the city.

But allow me to raise a broader question.  Should academics participate in initiatives of this kind? Some scholars will feel that it is inappropriate to become closely associated with specific policy initiatives. They will argue, and it is an intellectually coherent argument, that academics should observe, analyse and reflect, not act in an explicit way as policy advisers.

A contrary view, and one that enlightens the shift to ‘engaged scholarship’ now visible in many countries is that, while scholars must, of course, retain their independence, scholarship can be improved and advanced by contributing directly to public policy debates and community-based campaigns.

 

Leading the inclusive city [FC] 4webLeading the inclusive city by Robin Hambleton is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £20.79.

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Feature Image from Bristol City Council.

 

Book Review: The Soul of a University

The soul of a university FC

The Soul of a University by Chris Brink

The Soul of a University by Chris Brink, reviewed by Professor Mark Shucksmith OBE, Newcastle University

What is the soul of a university? What has been universities’ enduring value through the centuries and what should be their purpose today? Chris Brink’s new book “The Soul of a University. Why excellence is not enough,” is highly topical as debates continue about who should pay for higher education – students who benefit individually, or societies which benefit collectively. The worry that universities’ public value has been written out of English policy by recent legislation has prompted the establishment of an independent Civic University Commission, chaired by Lord Kerslake.

Chris Brink was, until recently, Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University, where he pioneered a vision of a world-class civic university, based on twin principles of excellence and purpose, arguing that a ‘good university’ must be good as in virtuous as well as being good as in excellent. His challenge (from Boethius of Dacia c.1270) is “to know the true, to do the good, and to delight in both.”

“…an inspirational tour de force which puts Chris’ model of the civic university into its historical, philosophical and political context”

The book is an inspirational tour de force which puts Chris’ model of the civic university into its historical, philosophical and political context, adding depth and force, while revealing him to be quite the renaissance man. After being taken through Plato, Aristotle, G.H.Hardy, Alan Turing, Raphael, Michael Young, Kate Fox, and many many more, I was delighted when the search for quality led ultimately to one of my favourite books of the 1970s – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – and Arête. This leads to a powerful and sustained argument against linearism: “a lazy preference for the apparent certainty of one dimension rather than the multidimensional complexities of the truth,” and this linearism is epitomised by university rankings.

Indeed the main target of the book is our infatuation with rankings, which are viewed as a perfect manifestation of the post-truth society. “Rankings work well for people who prefer certainty to truth: they should not work well for academics.” Despite this, “universities reacted to rankings like a baby given a rattle. They waved them around and made a noise.” This infatuation, he argues, has led universities to cede academic freedom and institutional autonomy, under pressure to revert to a conformist ‘standard model’ of a university aloof from society and turned in on itself, even if they wished to tread a different path. “Universities have simply given away the power to determine their own destiny. Ironically we have given it away, not to government…, nor to big business…, but to nothing more substantial than a one-size-fits-all caricature of what universities are supposed to be like. The greatest danger of loss of institutional autonomy now comes, not from the state, not from big business, not from globalisation, but from our own vanity.”

The book takes aim at several other targets, including meritocracy and ‘the English habit’ of turning difference into hierarchy, but perhaps most telling for those who work in universities is his insight into REF, TEF and other manifestations of the audit culture which not only create work but also destroy trust and collegiality. “The pursuit of good intentions often seems to lead to a regime of regulation, monitoring and compliance… and we all go and sit on committees for no better reason than to keep a watchful eye on our colleagues.”

“…universities are in danger of losing their way, and society is in danger of losing something precious.”

As is evident from these extracts, the book is beautifully written, full of humour, insight and memorable turns of phrase. But its message is powerful and angry – universities are in danger of losing their way, and society is in danger of losing something precious. As Chris Brink says, it is up to us to demonstrate that the world can still benefit from wandering scholars.

The soul of a university FCThe soul of a university by Chris Brink is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Bristol University Press and Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Protecting Children: Time for a new story

 

Protecting children [FC]

Protecting children is out now

As their new book, Protecting children: A social model, publishes this week, Brid Featherstone, Anna Gupta, Kate Morris and Susan White look at how child protection practice must adapt to reflect our changing world.

And so it goes on: the roll call of more children coming into care, more children living in poverty, more families using food banks and more families living in overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation.

 

It is painfully apparent that the settlement between the state and its citizens, forged post-war, has been undermined profoundly, if not broken, over the last decades. Increasingly, expectations of decent work, secure and affordable homes and enough to eat can no longer be guaranteed by a state that is experienced as both intrusive and neglectful, especially by those living in poverty, with a subsequent loss of trust and widespread feelings of alienation and disconnection.

The policies and practices that have been developed to protect children must be understood and located within this wider canvas. While the state and its resources allegedly shrink, its gaze is harder and its tongue sharper. As part of an increasingly residual role, the system has become narrowly focused on an atomised child, severed from family, relationships and economic and social circumstances:  a precarious object of ‘prevention’, or rescue. As its categories and definitions have gradually grown, the gap between child protection services and family support, or ordinary help has, somewhat paradoxically, widened.

Indeed, the child protection mandate struggles to move beyond holding individuals (usually mothers) responsible for managing children’s protection, thus, in effect, privatising what are often public troubles and outsourcing their management to those often most harmed by such troubles.  When they almost inevitably struggle to cope, state responses incline towards removal and the rupture of connections and networks with ethical and human rights considerations becoming casualties of a risk averse climate and narrow and reductive understandings of children’s outcomes.

“Austerity has made things very much worse as successive governments, since 2010, have pummelled the poorest areas of our country and the poorest families relentlessly.”

Austerity has made things very much worse as successive governments, since 2010, have pummelled the poorest areas of our country and the poorest families relentlessly.   But it is vital we recognise the roots of our current malaise go way back and are intimately connected to a long-standing tendency to see child protection as something apart, the province of uniquely troubled families and thus disconnected from the wider contexts in which all families seek to survive and thrive.

The following deep-rooted assumptions are core to the child protection story:

  • The harms children and young people need protecting from are normally located within individual families and are caused by actions of omission or commission by parents and/or other adult caretakers;
  • These actions/inactions are due to factors ranging from poor attachment patterns, dysfunctional family patterns, parenting capacity, faulty learning styles to poor/dangerous lifestyle choices;
  • The assessment of risk and parenting capacity is ‘core business’ and interventions are focused on effecting change in family functioning.

In our new book Protecting Children: A Social Model we argue for a new story to support more hopeful and socially just policies and practices. This would oblige rooting the protection of children within broader understandings of what all families need to flourish and locating such understandings within the scholarship on inequality and poverty. Crucially, it means developing a range of strategies and practices to deal with the social determinants of many of the harms experienced within families such as domestic abuse, mental health difficulties and addiction issues; all pervasive features of highly unequal societies such as ours.

“Social work practice needs to be re-thought obliging the re-visiting of the old and engagement with the new.”

Social work practice needs to be re-thought obliging the re-visiting of the old and engagement with the new. When there is widespread misery and deprivation, how can the individually focused home visit continue too often to be the only game in town?   Collective strategies must be considered in a project that promotes community work, locality based approaches and peer support and is founded on seeing families as a source of expertise about system design and best practice.

Building on the ideas in the best-selling Re-imagining Child Protection: towards humane social work with families, and drawing from a wide range of social theorists and disciplines, we identify policies and practices to argue for a social model of protecting children that is animated by the need to:

  • Understand and tackle root causes;
  • Rethink the role of the state;
  • Develop relationship(s) based practice and co-production; and
  • Embed a dialogic approach to ethics and human rights in policy and practice

Re-imagining child protection [FC].jpgRe-imagining child protection by Brid Featherstone, Susan White and Kate Morris is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.19.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Bristol University Press and Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.


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