Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Britain: Oxford professor in free speech row

Critics backing off under counter-attack, however

An MP has defended the rights of academics' free speech after students called for an Oxford don to be sacked because of his links to a migration thinktank and a charity devoted to the selective breeding of humans. Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said provided the views of the don were "legal and delivered lawfully he had every right to express them without fear or retribution from his employer." Dr Harris spoke out after David Coleman, a professor of demography, became the third academic in the last eight months to find himself at the centre of a row over freedom of speech.

Last November, London School of Economics lecturer and evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa was accused of reviving the politics of eugenics when a journal published his paper alleging that African states were poor and suffered ill-health because their populations were less intelligent than people in richer countries. Four months earlier, Frank Ellis at Leeds University became the first university lecturer to be suspended under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000. His suspension came after he told his student newspaper that black people and women were genetically intellectually inferior. Dr Ellis took early retirement last summer.

In the latest row over academics and free speech Professor Coleman hit back at the students who are trying to get him sacked. He accused them of bringing the university into disrepute and said the freedom of informed comment and analysis was something academia should "cherish." Prof Coleman retaliated after student members of the Student Action for Refugees (STAR) launched a petition calling on the university to "consider the suitability of Coleman's continued tenure as a professor of the university in light of his well-known opinions and affiliations relating to immigration and eugenics." The petition referred to the don's honorary consultant role with the migration watchdog and thinktank, MigrationWatch UK. The students are also unhappy about his membership of the Galton Institute - a charity focusing on eugenics.

Professor Coleman told the Oxford student newspaper Cherwell: "Under no circumstances will I refrain from using my academic title." He criticised those students campaigning against him and said they should consider their own future at the university. He said: "It is a shameful attempt of the most intolerant and totalitarian kind, to suppress the freedom of analysis and informed comment which it is the function of universities to cherish." "I am ashamed that Oxford students should behave in this way. It is the signatories who will bring this university into disrepute, and it is they who should reconsider their membership of this university," he added.

Kieran Hutchinson Dean, the student who helped organise the petition, told Cherwell that STAR did not expect the university to agree to its demands for Professor Coleman to go. But he said: "By offering interviews as a 'professor of Oxford University' he lends credibility to his political viewpoint. "The main point of the petition is to raise awareness of his views and affiliations amongst students. We do not expect anyone to agree, but think that it is an interesting and important debate to have."

Commenting on the row MP Dr Harris said it was important that academics maintain their right to free speech. In a letter to Cherwell he wrote: "As long as he (Coleman) does not claim to speak on behalf of the university, he is at liberty to set out his academic background. "The price of us all enjoying academic freedom and free expressing is that we provide those freedoms even to those with whom we disagree, and this campaign is illiberal and totally counter-productive."


If we want open borders, we need open debate

The Oxford students calling for the censure of an anti-immigration professor are selling short both the case for open borders and academic freedom -- say two other Oxford students in the article below:

Not to be outdone by their peers at other universities who have banned the Daily Mail and the Sun, or tried to censor the word ‘gay’, a group of Oxford students is leading a campaign to sack a professor for expressing opposition to immigration (1). Student Action for Refugees (STAR) has organised a petition calling for David Coleman, professor of demography at St John’s College, Oxford, to refrain from using his academic title when discussing immigration publicly, because it ‘brings the university into disrepute’.

STAR has also urged the college to ‘consider the suitability of Coleman’s continued tenure as a professor of the university, in light of his well-known opinions and affiliations relating to immigration and eugenics’. The professor helped found the anti-immigration think tank MigrationWatch and is a member of the Galton Institute, formerly the Eugenics Society.

Coleman, who, backed by the university and the University and College Union, has refused to stop using his title, undoubtedly holds unpleasant views. His main aim is to refute the utilitarian case for immigration by arguing that long-term population decline is benign, and that its economic effects can be managed through making ‘somewhat painful adjustments to workplace participation, the retirement age and pensions funding’. Immigration, he concludes, is simply not worth the risk to ‘social cohesion’ and the added pressure on public services (2).

There is plenty to object to in this miserabilist, neo-Malthusian analysis. Given the choice between being forced to work harder and longer, while receiving miserly government pensions, and accepting immigration, most people would choose the latter. Even so, Coleman presents a false dichotomy between lowering our aspirations and accepting the possibility of social chaos. This reflects his own reactionary lack of political imagination. And yet, rather than offering a progressive political alternative – and putting the case for freedom of movement for all migrants – STAR and others prefer to silence critics of immigration.

Indeed, Kieran Hutchinson Dean, the STAR campaigner who organised the petition against Coleman, told us: ‘We always knew he was a respected member of the university, and we don’t question his work.’ Instead, the main aim is to ‘raise awareness of his affiliation to eugenics’ and to ‘make people more aware about these links because this might change their views on his credibility’. Coleman ‘gives MigrationWatch added credibility, which we think is potentially quite dangerous’, says Hutchinson Dean, because MigrationWatch produces reports criticising immigration.

Behind today’s attempts to restrict free speech, whether it is the government or a group of students leading the charge, is a degraded view of other people as either witless sponges who will unthinkingly soak up whatever they are told, or potential fist-swingers who, given any encouragement, will become racists or xenophobes. So Hutchinson Dean and STAR do not question the validity of Coleman’s academic research, instead just denouncing it as ‘dangerous’.

It is precisely because the public debate about Britain’s immigration policy turns on narrow technocratic questions about population growth and the country’s skills base, rather than any vision of what sort of society we want to live in, that the views of an obscure professor of demography can carry so much weight. Students concerned about the status of immigrants might be better advised to challenge the government’s immigration policy, which is based on narrow, utilitarian calculations of economic benefit. The perfectly reasonable aspirations of economic migrants or the rights of refugees don’t get a look in.

Yet STAR seems confused as to what its position is on immigration. Hutchinson Dean told us that he personally has no position on whether there should be limits to immigration. In fact, STAR ‘doesn’t have a position as a group’: ‘Some of the people involved think that we should have open border policies, and that all borders are inherently racist. Others think that we do need immigration controls, but that the policies that are in place now are unfair and unjust’. The only thing that STAR agrees on, he says, is that detention centres are ‘immoral, but as an organisation we don’t debate the fine points of the theory, and how and what the ideal immigration system is’.

It is hardly surprising, then, to discover that STAR confines itself to providing creative writing workshops for internees at the Camp Campsfield detention centre for immigrants in Oxford, joining demonstrations to have the camp closed, sending protesting postcards to the home secretary, and trying to shut up Professor David Coleman.

Meanwhile, some of those who do have a particular position – like Teresa Hayter, author of Open Borders: The Case Against Immigration Controls – also refuse to counter Coleman’s arguments in public. Hayter says: ‘I support the petition. I don’t think he should be a professor at the university.’ Hayter refused to ‘go up on a platform with him’ at a recent debate organised by King’s College, London, because MigrationWatch statistics ‘receive a lot of exposure and publicity on the website of the BNP, the tabloid press and even on the BBC’. Coleman should not have been ‘given a platform in the knowledge of his opposition to immigration and also…of his long association with eugenics’, which is ‘a dangerous, frightening doctrine’, continues Hayter. ‘I do not feel it is possible to have any sort of polite, or honest, or academic debate with these people’.

Yet if those of us who support an open-border policy are going to win the argument, and win people over, then surely we need to take on the likes of MigrationWatch. The attempt to shut down the anti-immigration lobby means that the debate about immigration is never had out, and thus never won. As John Stuart Mill pointed out, the truth is so complex ‘that very few have minds sufficiently capacious and impartial’ to grasp it in its entirety; rather ‘it has to be made by the rough process of a struggle between combatants fighting under hostile banners’ (3). Even if we were to regard the argument against eugenics, racism and limits to immigration as completely true, ‘if it is not fully, frequently and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth’ (4).

Pro-immigration views are in danger of becoming ‘dead dogma’ today, because the automatic response of many progressives is to silence anyone who criticises these views, branding them, as Hayter does Coleman, ‘little more than a plausible front for the BNP’. The positive case for an open society is rarely aired while MigrationWatch is slammed for publishing statistics that opponents would rather hush up – under the elitist assumption that people will react negatively to them.

The pursuit of truth through sceptical enquiry and debate is precisely the purpose of academic freedom. If we cannot have free speech and open debate at universities, then where can they exist? Hutchinson Dean tells us that he wanted to ‘open a debate on the limits of academic freedom’. The point of Mill’s insight is that there can be no imposed limits. No matter how dubious someone’s affiliations might seem, they cannot be used cheaply to discredit or undermine a point of view by association. Everyone must be allowed to express their viewpoint, and it is only through a debate about the ideas, not affiliations, that the truth may emerge.

Attempting to silence views you disagree with reveals a desire to impose your own judgements without letting others make their minds up for themselves. That has nothing to do with free thinking, which is what university life is supposed to be about – isn’t it?


British Greenies hate air travel (except for their own use, of course) so this will rile them -- as it takes away the only alternative

Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping are double those of aviation and increasing at an alarming rate which will have a serious impact on global warming, according to research by the industry and European academics. Separate studies suggest that maritime carbon dioxide emissions are not only higher than previously thought, but could rise by as much as 75% in the next 15 to 20 years if world trade continues to grow and no action is taken.

The figures from the oil giant BP, which owns 50 tankers, and researchers at the Institute for Physics and Atmosphere in Wessling, Germany reveal that annual emissions from shipping range between 600 and 800m tonnes of carbon dioxide, or up to 5% of the global total. This is nearly double Britain's total emissions and more than all African countries combined.

Carbon dioxide emissions from ships do not come under the Kyoto agreement or any proposed European legislation and few studies have been made of them, even though they are set to increase. Aviation carbon dioxide emissions, estimated to be about 2% of the global total, have been at the forefront of the climate change debate because of the sharp increase in cheap flights, whereas shipping emissions have risen nearly as fast in the past 20 years but have been ignored by governments and environmental groups. Shipping is responsible for transporting 90% of world trade which has doubled in 25 years.


Fresh doubts about the dubious "Lancet" study of Iraqi deaths: "The implication of the Lancet study, which involved Iraqi doctors knocking on doors and asking residents about recent deaths in the household, was that Iraqis were being killed on an horrific scale. The controversy has deepened rather than evaporated. Several academics have tried to find out how the Lancet study was conducted; none regards their queries as having been addressed satisfactorily. Researchers contacted by The Times talk of unreturned e-mails or phone calls, or of being sent information that raises fresh doubts.... Professor Spagat says the Lancet paper contains misrepresentations of mortality figures suggested by other organisations, an inaccurate graph, the use of the word "casualties" to mean deaths rather than deaths plus injuries, and the perplexing finding that child deaths have fallen. Using the "three-to-one rule" - the idea that for every death, there are three injuries - there should be close to two million Iraqis seeking hospital treatment, which does not tally with hospital reports. "The authors ignore contrary evidence, cherry-pick and manipulate supporting evidence and evade inconvenient questions," contends Professor Spagat"

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