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.’