In New Zealand, Jarrod Gilbert, a sociologist at the University of Canterbury, claimed that he was “being muzzled by the police” (Bootham). Gilbert said police asked researchers “to sign contracts when they released data, and a standard clause gave them the right to veto any findings being published” and that “he had been blacklisted by the police because he had talked to gang members” (Bootham): “’The police are wielding a very big stick here in order to muzzle or restrict academic freedom and inquiry and of course limit free speech, it is extraordinary’” (Bootham).
Sandra Grey, the national president of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU), which represents university faculty, issued a lengthy statement on the case and its broader implications: “’Most external research contracts actually do have some sort of clause about [by] who and how the information will be released, but your scientists have talked about [it], our members have talked about it who work in universities and polytechnics.
It is getting really concerning that we’re seeing a closing down of really legitimate public debate. . . . It is becoming an increasing issue in our sector so we need more people who are brave enough to say “hey this is what’s happened.” And I think any attempt to blacklist researchers based on what they do again shows just how closed down our government, our public sector, our society, our democracy is becoming. Over time it’s got tighter and tighter and a lot of this is about not wanting to be embarrassed publicly by research findings, but I think government departments should be bigger than that and know if it’s in the public interest it should be out there’” (Bootham). In sum, Grey said that the governmental interference in Gilbert’s research “was a breach of academic freedom and researchers had a legal duty to act as the critic and conscience of society” (Bootham).
As a result of the issues being made public, the “Green Party called on Police Minister Michael Woodhouse to demand police scrap the controversial contracts” (Bootham). Party spokesperson David Clendan said in a public statement: “’The police do hold some information which is certainly sensitive which needs to be protected. [But] the data that Dr Gilbert is looking for doesn’t coming under that heading and I’m sure we can do much better in terms of differentiating, OK, what is the sort of information the police might hold which legitimately needs to be very carefully managed and what is simply public data that can inform better policy and practice. The minister needs to step up and be part of that conversation’” (Bootham).
In June 2015, the Association of Scientists in New Zealnd released the results of a “survey that claimed 40 percent of its scientists are under pressure from the government and cannot speak out publicly about their domain’s expertise because of official pressure or fear of funding loss”: “According to New Zealand’s scientists, the government’s funding policies are preventing them from articulating their position on many scientific issues and constraining their autonomy in giving valid inputs to the government’s climate change stance. The New Zealand Association of Scientists said it is concerned about the serious flaws in the government’s public consultation on climate change” (Kumar).NZAS president Nicola Gaston stated: “’Climate change will have a profound influence on New Zealanders, and there are many complex issues that need to be dealt with’” (Kumar). Nonetheless, Steven Joyce, Science and Innovation Minister, downplayed the results of the survey, saying: ““I would be keen to hear any evidence of this concern that was causing the public not to be properly informed–that wouldn’t be right. And I’m very much in favour of science communication and making sure the public is fully informed. But you’d have to have a heck of a lot more evidence than we’ve got from one write-in survey’” (Kumar).
Bootham, Laura. “Academic Freedom under Threat—TEU.” Radio New Zealand News 25 Nov. 2015.
Kumar, Kalyan. “New Zealand’s Political Parties Seek Probe into ‘Gagging of Scientists’ on Climate Change Issue.” International Business Times 16 Feb. 2015.
Previous Posts in the Series:
Post 1. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 1]: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/24/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-1-of-a-series/.
Post 2. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 2]: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/25/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-2-of-a-series/.
Post 3. Canada—University of New Brunswick: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/26/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-3-of-a-series/.
Post 4. Canada—Capilano University: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/30/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-4-of-a-series/
Post 6. Canada—Additional Items: https://academeblog.org/2016/05/08/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-6-of-a-series/.
Post 7. Australia– Nikolic, Powell, and Price: https://academeblog.org/2016/05/18/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-7-of-a-series/.
Post 8: Australia– Copenhagen Consensus Centre at Flinders University and Monash University Branch Campus in China: https://academeblog.org/2016/05/21/global-survey-of-academic-freedom-issues-in-2015-post-8-of-a-series/.