White Australia Policy: the story continues

The past months Australia has witnessed an interesting example of the tension between academic freedom and freedom of speech versus the principle of non-discrimination. Andrew Fraser, Associate Professor in the Department of Public Law at Macquarie University in Sydney stirred up a debate on the re-introduction of the White Australia Policy through radio and TV appearances a couple of weeks ago. This time however he is going through the academic channels to get his ideas across.

His paper was accepted by the Deakin University Law Review after being peer reviewed. But, after a threat from an Australian lawyer acting on behalf of the Sudanees community, Vice-Chancellor of Deakin University, Sally Walker, directed the editor of the Law review not to publish the article.

Let me be clear: the content of the paper is despicable and the academic credibility is at least doubtful, as these comments show. But the question remains whether research on for instance the genetic influence on criminal behaviour should be conducted. To me, the starting point is that everything is worth of investigating, just for knowledge sake. But academics also have an ethical obligation towards society. So let’s assume that serious research on the issue is conducted, what then? What to do with the outcomes? Not admitting a Sudanees surgeon, but welcoming a British troublemaker, based on their genetic codes? Of course, using such research results as a basis for policy making, contradicts agreements that we have made and international norms that (fortunately) have emerged in the last 60 years or so.

So what would have been the best option? Of course the article should just have been published. If a wider group of peers – the readers of the Deakin University Law review and legal scholars in general – questions the academic credibility of the article, the journal will just loose its own reputation and the editor will look for other reviewers for the future. And then Fraser can just upload the paper himself to whatever website or blog, so it can dissolve in the dark corners of the Internet.    

One thing needs to be added here. A poll from Channel Nine showed that Frasers ideas have a lot of support in Australia. Neglecting this will not take these feelings away and a political solution needs to be found for that. As someone that lived in the Netherlands until early 2005, I have seen what happens if such feelings are continuously neglected and then find a mouthpiece. And that sight wasn’t pretty. But I am pretty sure that solutions can be found within the agreements and norms that we have now.

Global Cosmopolis?

The past days, Singapore seems to be under the spell of Global Entrepolis @ Singapore, a gathering of entrepreneurs, technopreneurs and the ‘venture capital community’. Here, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong outlined a strategy to power Singapore’s economic growth through innovation. The strategy is to enlarge Singapore’s economic space through free trade agreements, education, and research and development.

“Some people believe in the old adage, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Here in Singapore, our belief is ‘innovate or vegetate’. We break the old mould when faced with a different situation and innovate to stay ahead,” Mr Goh said. Mr Goh said a culture which encourages risk-taking and tolerant of mistakes is critical to innovation. But he admitted this will not happen overnight.

Singapore has done a remarkable job the past decades. It has turned into one of the most prosperous nations in Asia. It is also seen as an embodiment of the ‘knowledge for development’ thinking and a model country for future knowledge economies and societies. The country has been very successful in making the transition from low wage industrial production to a high tech economy.

It has done so under tight controls on public speech and political activity. And maybe thanks to this tight control it has been able to emulate western models and mould them into a Singaporean version of the knowledge society. However, also the Singaporean government recognises that this has its limits. In a 2003 article in TIME Asia it was already stated that:

Singapore’s “nanny-state” technocrats recognize that imposing a Silicon Valley-like mind-set on the population through social engineering won’t be easy. “We cannot create entrepreneurs,” says Lee, Singapore’s founding father. “We can only facilitate their emergence.”

The article then points to some examples where the government is creating ‘little Bohemias’ and is experimenting with relaxing rules in relation to artistic expressions, alternative lifestyles and homosexuality. Two years further however, artistic and political expression seems to be still under attack. This becomes clear in the case of the investigation of Singaporean film maker Martyn See for a political documentary called ‘Singapore Rebel’. Would Martyn See agree that a culture which encourages risk-taking and tolerance is critical to innovation?

The bigger question here is whether it will also be economically necessary for the Singaporean government to relax its rules vis-à-vis political activity and social criticism. In other words: to what extent is a critical attitude in society – and also in academia – a necessary precondition for what we call a knowledge society? No entrepolis without the cosmopolis?    

Another Blog

Why another blog? Paradoxically I got the idea after reading Ivan Tribble’s column in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his recent follow up as a reaction to the critique of the whole ‘blogger community’. According to Tribble – whoever that may be – a blog easily becomes a therapeutic outlet:

“Worst of all, for professional academics, it’s a publishing medium with no vetting process, no review board, and no editor. The author is the sole judge of what constitutes publishable material, and the medium allows for instantaneous distribution.”

Welcome to the 21st century! I guess that’s what the Internet is all about, and even academia needs to live with it. Don’t worry, I’ll continue to let peers judge my work through the official channels of journals and conferences. I do however have enough trust in professional academics – including myself – to use new media in a responsible manner.

But still, ..why start blogging? Just because it’s a good way to keep track of the developments in the fields that I research: higher education and research policies, science & innovation policies, and the globalisation and transnationalisation of (public) policies. Blogging will hopefully give me the opportunity to continuously link my more theoretical and conceptual work to current affairs.

That said, what is the blog about? It is a blog on higher education, science and innovation, all from a global perspective. These are three keywords that best express my research interests. But every now and then I will make a jaunt to other interests like Dutch, Australian, Southeast Asian and European politics, books, music or movies, and other fun things in life like diving and travelling.