Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Minister's suggestion "inflammatory and misleading"

Thank God for that. Somebody with credentials has set the record straight over Anne Tolley's labeling of a proposed study treating children as if they were "lab rats".

He is professor Tim Dare who produced some earlier ethical analysis on predictive modelling for MSD.

His column, published today in the DomPost is totally scathing of the minister and the political process.

A minister sees a briefing paper with a proposal to test a computer model designed to identify children at risk of maltreatment.  She reacts strongly.
"Not on my watch!" she writes in the margin, "these children are not lab-rats". The study is shelved.
The media obtain the briefing paper, complete with the marginalia, and publicise it.
The Opposition seize on the lab-rats cry and use it in the House against the Minister of Social Development and the ministry.
Should we feel relieved? Have we averted another unfortunate experiment? No.
The minister's reaction, and the media and Opposition response to it should make us feel uneasy.
The problem is not the shelving of the study – though that was a mistake too – rather it is the chilling effect of the knee-jerk and political response to an attempt to produce evidence for important social policy.
Science collided with politics, and politics won.
My letter on the subject was also published on the opposite page. I had asked the DomPost to amend Cabinet paper to briefing paper shortly after submitting but it didn't happen.

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