Where does academic freedom end?

This story about the suspension of two QUT academics is very worrying. I haven’t got full details yet, but the story so far is that a graduate student in the QUT Creative Industries faculty* produced, as part of his PhD work, a film entitled Laughing at the Disabled which was supported by some groups advocating for disabled people and criticised others. The two academics. John Hookham and Gary McLennan criticised the film in a confirmation hearing, then in correspondence with the Vice-Chancellor and finally in an article in The Australian, which also made more general criticisms of postmodernism, relativism and so on, including specific criticism of the dominant views at QUT (it seems to be behind the paywall now).The only result was that the title of the film was changed to “Laughing with the Disabled” and the academics were charged with ethics violations, though details don’t appear to be public.

The two have now been suspended without pay for six months, which is virtually dismissal.

This case raises concerns both in relation to academic freedom and as regards the implications for whistleblowing more generally.

update There’s lots of comment on this story all around Ozplogistan, including Andrew Bartlett and Kim at LP. Peter Black gives an excellent summary
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Those bloggers can be so mean!

Following the conviction of Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby for perjury in relation to the Plame case, pleas for clemency have been pouring into the courts from the great and good, including Bolton, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. But the great and good have become a little shy lately, and its all because of those beastly bloggers. According to the New York Times, Libby’s lawyers argued against the release of the letters to the media on the grounds that

the real possibility that these letters, once released, would be published on the Internet and their authors discussed, even mocked, by bloggers

Judge Reggie B. Walton appears to be well aware of the fun bloggers can have when high-powered advocates of the unfettered power of the executive turn out to be soft on crime. He refused the application. Then he granted the petition of twelve leading lights of the legal profession to submit an amicus curiae brief, noting, in a footnote

It is an impressive show of public service when twelve prominent and distinguished current and former law professors of well-respected schools are able to amass their collective wisdom in the course of only several days to provide their legal expertise to the Court on behalf of a criminal defendant. The Court trusts that this is a reflection of these eminent academics’ willingness in the future to step to the plate and provide like assistance in cases involving any of the numerous litigants, both in this Court and throughout the courts of our nation, who lack the financial means to fully and properly articulate the merits of their legal positions even in instances where failure to do so could result in monetary penalties, incarceration, or worse. The Court will certainly not hesitate to call for such assistance from these luminaries, as necessary in the interests of justice and equity, whenever similar questions arise in the cases that come before it.

Somehow I think Judge Walton thought bloggers might want to quote that statement, and I’m not going to disappoint him (via a comment in Unfogged, via BitchPhD).
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What I’m reading

Sophie’s World which my son received as a present and enjoyed (I read it when it came out a few years back and thought it might be good to refresh my memory). An introduction to philosophy (roughly along the lines of Russell’s History of Western Philosophy) presented as a story in which a young girl receives a series of mysterious messages.

Higher Ground – an analysis of the Project Hope scheme run in Wisconsin with the aim of improving outcomes for the working poor there. I’ll be writing a review some time.

Happiness, income and status

Lots of people (including Kevin Drum, Brad DeLong and Tyler Cowen have jumped in on this post by Will Wilkinson about this NBER study of habituation to changes in income and status. Wilkinson and most commentators focus on the findings regarding the subgroups on the right and left of the political spectrum, which I’ll come to, but it’s worth mentioning the general findings first.

Most people (in the German sample population) initially react more, as regards self-reported happiness, to a change in income than to a change in occupational status, but gradually get habituated to changes in income. This is consistent with the standard view of the happiness literature, that income changes don’t have a big effect on happiness, so that people in rich countries aren’t on average much happier than those in poor countries. Moreover, by looking at the same people over relatively short periods of time the analysis overcomes, to a significant extent, the objection I’ve made previously, that the scale on which happiness is measured is inherently relative to some notion of what is reasonable to expect.
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G8 and APEC

The deal on climate change announced at the G8 conference is, in practical terms, a face-saving compromise rather than a substantive agreement. But it does have some real implications.

First, barring some last-minute pullout by China or India, it locks everyone who matters into the UN’s post-Kyoto process ending in 2009. As far as I can tell, no-one at G8 noted Australia’s world-leading initiatives or suggested that it would be a good idea to wait until September when the issue could be discussed at APEC in Sydney. Maybe there’s some wiggle room to reopen the topic, but as far as I can see the idea of a Sydney declaration is dead on arrival. Bush’s initial proposal, similar to Howard’s idea, got no support from anyone and was dropped.

Second, although Bush’s promise to “consider” a 50 per cent cut by 2050 is worthless, the deal makes it clear that this will be the focal point for future discussions, at least as far as developed countries are concerned. The idea that Australia might be able to announce its own lower target is just silly. The remaining sticking point is the starting date from which the cut is to be calculated. The EU wants 1990. The government would obviously prefer to calculate from 2012, but as I’ve observed previously, our failure to ratify Kyoto leaves us without a leg to stand on here.

Finally, while Bush didn’t give a lot of ground, he certainly didn’t gain any. Canada and Japan sided with the EU, and they all committed to the 50 per cent cut. Bush’s concessions may have been mainly rhetorical but they will provide political cover for his successor to follow through with some real action.