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.