Bureaucracy, political correctness all gone mad (etc etc etc)

An honours student approached me to interview me on an interesting thesis she is writing currently entitled “The conceptualization of political participation by advocates of Government 2.0”.  Naturally enough I agreed to what turned out to be an excellent interview (I do like it when people actually ‘get’ what I’m saying even if it’s a bit subtle, a bit conceptual). The distinction between government and politics is a difficult one and something that I’ve given quite a bit of thought to, even though it only appears implicitly, and even then very sotto voce in the Taskforce report.

Anyway, before the interview could take place I was asked to fill out this form (pdf).

One of the reasons I have always steered clear of academia is this kind of petty minded nonsense – which in my day manifested itself not so much in this sort of thing but in the creation of endless rules around courses.  Because I funded myself through uni I was forever coming across problems, for instance for deferring my course or switching from this to that, which would have been OK if I’d been on some funding arrangement (Why? No reason, but it had different rules). The way I was brought up I had a kind of naive belief that when presented with the idiocy of it all, the academics would do what they could to make sensible things happen. After all, they were devoting the best part of their waking hours to the rational exercise of the mind.

Alas . . .

Some of the best minds in the country apparently have nothing better to do than to sit around and administer the filling out of consent forms of people who have agreed to an interview . . . . Then again, perhaps it’s some bureaucrat or politician sitting somewhere else. Anyway, it wasn’t too bad. I told the student that I gave her all the permissions she would like and did not want to sign the form, and that was OK.  And I enjoyed the interview.

This entry was posted in Economics and public policy, regulation. Bookmark the permalink.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
10 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
c-sez
c-sez
11 years ago

So if you’d been full and frank in an interview with a research student, assuming that it was anonymous, but a couple of years later your remarks were used for wholly other purposes like say…. the guts of a 4 Corners story, that’s cool? Maybe so.

Anyway it reads like a pretty bog standard consent form which ethics panels mandate in the medical sciences as a minimum requirement. It may have just been cut and paste directly across as is into this social science research you’ve been a part of. So paradoxically, I suspect some of the best minds in the country haven’t given it too much thought at all.

shane bonetti
11 years ago

oh nick

ever the offside contrarian.

evidently, clearly, obviously, manifestly, oral consent is not sufficient. Have a wee think about reversibility and about the extremities of experimental psychology, and the vagaries of interviwing contrary bastards like us.

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

I think you’ll find it’s all deemed to be for legal reasons, and that one is comparatively mild. Where I work, for example, we have lines like “whilst this survey is legal in Australia, the content may be illegal in other countries” and “although this is considered harmless, there may be minority groups in the community….”. Then you actually do the survey/task/interview and you find out that it’s about something entirely innocuous like your attitudes to having pets in the home.

If I was you, I would at least take the consent form down for her sake (she’s too easy to identify). If the ethics people at my university found out you ran a study without getting consent, you would (a) get some form of severe disciplinary action; (b) not be allowed to submit your thesis; (c) possibly get kicked out of your course; and (d) if you didn’t, have troubles for the rest of your life running anything.

Yes, there are lots of people that can think of nothing better than using their power to make misery for other people, and find officious ways to justify it . But that’s not restricted to universities — they’re just epi-centres of bureaucracy and bored make-work bureaucrats.

John Passant
11 years ago

It’s an interesting point. As the commodification of education deepened, so too did its bureacratisation.

John Passant
11 years ago

bureaucratisation!

Ron Lubensky
11 years ago

I know the student’s lecturer and he’s definitely not a bureaucrat! You can read the form as communicating to you the legitimacy of the research, as a matter of courtesy. It appears that they didn’t submit the project to the university’s ethics committee, which they were obliged to do but appear to have avoided as the form isn’t complete by their standards. Consider yourself lucky that bureaucracy was actually averted!

Fred
Fred
11 years ago

Nick, I beg to differ. I don’t regard the concept of personal privacy as embodied in the Privacy Act and the National Privacy Principles as “petty minded nonsense”. Before an organisation collects personal information from an individual, it is required to disclose the information that is being collected and what the information will be used for and whether the information will be provided to other people. The individual’s consent must be obtained, preferably in writing.

I suspect that you,like all of us, have signed many privacy consents before and that a well-known mortgage broking business has asked many people to sign privacy forms.

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

“I know the student’s lecturer”

It’s not the lecturers — it’s the committees and officious a**holes that often populate them. I personally couldn’t care less about a lot of the forms either, as they remind of all the crazy signs you see on things now warning you of any possible possibility — and I agree with NG above that a lot of it is “the endless obtaining of absurd consents” and not a realistic appraisal of the type of information people should be given if they participate in your study.

That doesn’t mean I think we shouldn’t have these sorts of consent forms, it’s just that they’ve gone too far. Some of my friends, for example, look at how the visual system works by doing things like getting people to judge which way gaussian blobs move in different luminance conditions (i.e., judging flickery crap), yet they still have to get people to sign these forms saying that if something happens, they won’t be responsible. That’s about the equivalent of asking people to sign a form indemnifying them in case interference from their TV jumps out of the screen and attacks them.