Canterbury wails: some dons are in a pother that cash from cows might curdle their research

"But is it right that we are being paid by the Government?"

“But is it ethical that we are being paid by a right-wing Government?”

Just an idea: some research is called for into how much the brains of our academics have been addled by exposure to earthquakes.

The thought is raised by the fluffy-headed thinking about money that has become evident at Canterbury University.

Some of the dons favour turning down good money if it comes from sources they have put on their black list.

Money is money is money in Alf’s view of the world.

It is neither good nor bad.

But the fluffy-heads at Canterbury University have got themselves into a tizz about whether the money that funds some of their research is ethical.

They have obviously been infected by the hysteria that afflicts too many of our do-gooders nowadays, because money from fizzy drinks and milk is on their suspect list.

The Weekend Herald today is telling us:

Research funding from the dairying and soft drink industries could be declined on ethical grounds under proposals being worked through by the University of Canterbury.

The university is in the midst of a wide-ranging debate about ethical research funding – who academics should and shouldn’t accept money from, and for what research purpose.

Currently, research funding from the tobacco and armaments industries could be declined.

Some academics have argued that should extend to certain industry-funded alcohol, gambling, dairying, mining and soft drink research.

Others believed there should be no prohibition and that the acceptance of funding should be left to individual moral judgements.

The report which draws Alf’s attention to these absurdities mentions a Professor Steve Weaver, the board’s chairman, and refers to discussions in a university council meeting held last month.

According to minutes released this week, Professor Weaver said there was a diverse range of views and with no clear consensus a working group had been set-up.

One member proposed a case-by-case “blush test”, and there was general support for academics’ freedom to not accept funding for work they did not approve of.

Under current systems anything contentious can be referred to the research and innovation department for a decision. Nothing had been referred for the past four years at least, Professor Weaver told the council.

Alas, we don’t know Professor Weaver’s position.

A spokesman for the university told the Weekend Herald that Professor Weaver was unwilling to answer questions on the ethical research funding discussion as it was ongoing.

Pity.

It would be good to know much more about the reasons being advanced in support of the proposal to reject research funding from dairying and other industries.

The minutes do not elaborate on this matter.

But Canterbury’s burgeoning dairy industry – we are reminded – has led to concerns about water pollution and nutrient losses, with calls to limit dairy conversions.

Professor Sally Casswell, a Massey University public health researcher with a bee in her bonnet about booze, not surprisingly pops up in the Weekend Herald story.

She says she strongly believes research funding should not be accepted from the alcohol industry.

Such funding was an attempt by the industry to position itself as a partner in policy research, Professor Casswell said, but only industry-friendly policies were supported.

“When universities take money, they are being co-opted into this scenario … it gives [the alcohol industry] an aura of respectability.”

It is refreshing to hear there’s another side to the story.

It has been articulated by Dr Eric Crampton, head of research at the NZ Initiative think-tank, and he said industry-funded research could be extremely valuable, so long as funding arrangements were disclosed and unethical behaviour could be censured.

Dr Crampton previously worked at the University of Canterbury’s economics department and was frequently critical of research on the societal harm from alcohol.

He maintains an adjunct senior fellow position with the department.

One-fifth of his university position was funded through a grant from the Brewers Association of Australia and New Zealand, he said, “and everything that I did was totally up for anybody to look at or comment on, or censure me if I was behaving badly.

“It is distortionary to automatically believe that industry funding is bad and evil and that government money comes with no strings and no agenda.”

There are plenty of university fluffy-heads, apparently, who think otherwise.

It would be good to hear if those who don’t want dairy industry money ever put milk in their tea or coffee, or butter on their bread and scones, or cheese in their sandwiches.

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