NUI Galway’s Active Consent Unit

This afternoon.

William Campbell, of the Here’s How podcast, writes:

Normally, rounding up guests for the podcast, there is a distinct contrast between booking a politician, and booking an academic. Politicians often have layers of suspicious minders to traverse, before any hope of getting in their diary, sometimes months later.

Academics’ email addresses and even phone numbers are usually right there on their university web page, and they often respond within minutes, delighted to tell you all about their specialist topic.

Investigating the work of NUIG’s Active Consent Unit was a different story. They produce high-profile reports on youth sexuality that are lapped up by the media. I first put in a request – which culminated in this week’s podcast – to talk to them more than a year ago. I followed up with several more emails, but they fobbed me off.

I kept working on the story because they made, what seemed to me, deeply suspect claims, none of which were challenged in the masses of publicity they got in the regular media. This August they issued another study (oddly, in Summer when universities are usually on holiday, but handy for news-starved media outlets), so I made another request for a speaker, and I eventually got Dr Caroline West on Skype.

The interview didn’t go well, as can be heard on the podcast, and Dr West terminated the call when I pressed her on definitions of rape used, particularly since two of their most startling claims were that 29 per cent of female students are raped during their time in college, of whom only 4.5 per cent make a garda report. These figures are provably wrong, since they would mean that students (less than five per cent of the population) generate far more rape reports while at college than the entire population make in a year.

Undeterred, I sent all the members of the Active Consent Unit a list of written questions, focused on these inconsistencies, and the fact that they have refused to publish their source data, or the text of their questionnaires, as would normally be required under the ‘open research’ principle of academic ethics.

Neither they, nor the NUIG press office, nor the NUIG Research Ethics Committee replied in any form. One question I asked was why their Media Mentions page on the NUIG website uncritically linked to entirely false stories overstating the already dubious claims in their reports.

Yesterday, when the podcast was published, that Media Mentions page was removed from the NUIG website, and its link was removed from the website menu. I noticed this (above) and tweeted that I had of course taken an archive copy of the page, and several hours later it was restored to the website.

Alongside funding from NUIG and charity grants, the Active Consent Unit has received almost €500,000 of taxpayer funding to publicise their research.’

Podcast here

Yesterday: Quality Surveying

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13 thoughts on “Active Investigation

  1. Zaccone

    Thats some good journalism.

    Theres far too much money thrown at high moral sounding quangos, with no real effort to ensure its ever actually used correctly. All the money wasted on this could have been far better spent on the Rape Crisis Center for example.

    Reply
    1. chris

      + 1 I find the need to sensationise topics to suit agendas deplorable. These types if given a chance are far more puritanical than any church.

      Reply
  2. George

    “These figures are provably wrong, since they would mean that students (less than five per cent of the population) generate far more rape reports while at college than the entire population make in a year.”

    This is not actually proof of anything. What are the actual numbers, why are they not included?

    A degree is 4 years long. So that would mean more than 25% of rapes were committed against students who are 5% of the population (how much more, I don’t know because they haven’t said for some reason). That isn’t impossible given that 75% of victims of rape are under 30 and the vast majority are young women. The gender balance in the student population differs from the general population with more female than male students. Additionally 70% of victims were drinking alcohol at the time. Alcohol consumption is high in the student population. If students didn’t account for much more than 5% of sexual assaults there’d be something very strange about the statistics (lot’s of pensioners being sexually assaulted?!).

    The figures might well be wrong, I don’t know, but the quote above isn’t proof of anything and it ridiculous to suggest it is. There appears to have been no consideration as to the various factors at play in this comparison of students and the general population.

    Reply
    1. William Campbell

      You could try listening to the explanations on the podcast, but briefly, a plurality of the respondents were first years who, when the survey was taken, (in February) had been in college for four or five months. The average respondent had been in college less than two calendar years when the survey was taken.

      Irish annual rape reports vary from ~700 to 1000 in recent years. If the study were to be credible, college students alone would generate more than 2000 reports of rapes to gardaí over those two years.

      It’s very simply really. A small subset of the population can’t generate more incidents than the entire population. The issue is not explaining how students account for more than 5 per cent of the figures, it’s explaining how they account for more than 100 per cent of the figures.

      Reply
      1. George

        The piece above and the maths in the description of the podcast which assumes all reports were reported in one year was enough for me.

        Have you read the statement that the CSO attaches to crime stats produced by the Gardai? The 700-1000 figure is not trustworthy and only includes people who decided to proceed with their complaint not everyone who reported a crime.

        The CSO state:
        “These statistics are categorised as Under Reservation. This categorisation indicates that the quality of these statistics do not meet the standards required of official statistics published by the CSO.”

        Reply
        1. George

          Also the assumption seems to be that the survey must be faked if the respondents report sexual assault at higher rates than expected but it is also possible that people who have been assaulted are more likely complete the survey as a result of their experiences. There are many unknowns and the case is far from proven.

          Reply
          1. William Campbell

            The word ‘faked’ does not occur in my report.

            You’re right that self-selecting surveys cannot be applied to the wider population, which is why I criticised the authors for claiming that they can.

    2. Zaccone

      This is a very, very bad grasp of maths from George.

      There are 240,000 students in Ireland currently, or very roughly 60,000 for each year of college. Or over 120,000 and 30,000 respectively for females. If 4.5% of these women get raped and report this to the Gardai during their college experience, as claimed, that would mean well over 1,500 reported rapes by college women every year.

      But the total number of rapes reported to the Gardai in Ireland every year hovers around 700-800. Across the entire country, in all demographics.

      So the claim, and the maths behind it, are very verifiably untrue.

      Reply
      1. George

        And yet the podcast descriptions claim there should be over 2000.

        This is what the CSO says about the 700-1000 figure:

        “These statistics are categorised as Under Reservation. This categorisation indicates that the quality of these statistics do not meet the standards required of official statistics published by the CSO.”

        Reply
    3. paddy apathy

      It’s not proof no.
      What it boils down to is what definition of rape was used in their research. If Dr West was unwilling to define or defend that definition well them I would imagine that the question was a danger to the narrative and consequently the value of their research.

      Reply

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