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The Forum > Article Comments > When academics donít like the results of good research > Comments

When academics donít like the results of good research : Comments

By John Fleming and Selena Ewing, published 25/5/2005

John Fleming and Selena Ewing reply to Eva Coxís article criticising their research into Australians' attitude to abortion.

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I am not panicked by or opposed to the research findings. However, I stand my ground that when two known pro life researchers release results of a piece of research, they should conform to the best academic ethics standards, not those of the commercially based market research organisation. My research is often questioned because of my public political commitments so I am always open about what I have done and how. I expect the same from others.

I find the research published interesting and in the spirit of good will I rang to find out further details and was refused access to these. However, my interpretations of the data are also different. Their claims that attitudes are 'soft' and presumably ambivalent, means that the writers don't understand how voters can cope with the clear difference between their moral stances and legislative action. There are things I find ethically inappropriate but would not support their being banned. People can differentiate between personal morality and legality. The survey result shows how many respondents understand the difference between their viewpoints and what they think should be legally imposed on others.

I want to see how the actual questions were worded and what was included and excluded; what words were used, as many are emotionally laden eg abortion or termination; and if some questions imply open slather on any stage abortions, as this is not the case and would bias responses.

How much you were funded and by whom may well be important in understanding your motivations. Funders do not have to actively involve themselves in a project to influence its directions and intentions. Are you prepared to come clean on this and the purposes of your other stages of this project?

eva cox
Posted by eva cox, Wednesday, 25 May 2005 12:03:10 PM
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John, I wonder how flexible your research approach is and whether it is possible that feedback at this stage on the questions that you asked might not help to refine questions that you ask at a later stage.

I note what Eva has said about the types of words that might have been used. I also note frequently that what people self-report to a stranger asking them questions for a survey isn't necessarily what they really believe, particularly on very emotionally and morally laden issue.

While it doesn't cure the self-reporting problem, it would also have been interesting to have had some questions asking your respondents what they might personally do in certain circumstances. I'd bet they would be more likely to favour abortion than when discussing it in the abstract.
Posted by GrahamY, Wednesday, 25 May 2005 1:01:56 PM
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I have to agree with Eva that there is a fundamental difference between a personal viewpoint on abortion and the legislation to enforce that viewpoint on another person. This can be seen across the broad spectrum of legislation, not just reproductive rights issues, the main difference being that people seem to think that personal views are more important in this debate than in others.

Leslie Cannold has also pointed out the need for greater scrutiny of studies purporting to be academic in nature (on any topic) and funding of these projects remains an issue.

Would we expect the findings of, for example, research by the Egg Growers Board in pursuit of a greater government subsidy to farmers to be that people hate eggs and think that the industry should be shut down? Maybe - but we'd expect the research report to be slanted in a way that emphasised the positives for the industry, in the same way that this research can be seen as "market research" for a particular viewpoint.

Surely public scrutiny of academic research is a vital part of societal debate - something to be welcomed. Further, if we can't expect to replicate the findings of research (and you can't do that without the research tool) or critique the methodology, why not just pull the figures out of the air?
Posted by seether, Wednesday, 25 May 2005 1:03:26 PM
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If the issue is possible bias in a research survey, then there are innumerable research surveys to choose from.

So why abortion, or why the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute? It seems that both have been targeted in some way by Eva, which indicates prejudice from her.

But from my understanding, the abortion rates in Australia are higher than in some other countries, and this has more to do with factors such as a lower rate of implant contraception use in Australia than in those other countries, which is much more of a medical issue than a moral or social issue.

However facts about abortion seem scarce, and without those facts even the medical issues relating to abortion will not be adequately solved.
Posted by Timkins, Wednesday, 25 May 2005 1:28:45 PM
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It seems Eva Cox has spent a great deal of effort trying to discredit this research. So now she has engineered a debate over the research methods rather than on the important practical question of how to help women steer clear of having abortions. Does anyone question that there is a huge majority (87%) of Australians who want to see fewer abortions? What are we going to do to improve support for women to avoid abortion?
Posted by magella, Wednesday, 25 May 2005 1:45:05 PM
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Well I wasn't too interested in this topic before John and Selena's post but now I am. I'm with Eva on this one as the more I read about what John and Selena have to say the more I want to know about the questions that were asked during their survey. Not all questions are good questions and the way that they're asked bears meaning on the results. The question you've provided us:

ďIf ways could be found to reduce the number of abortions in Australia but still giving women the right to freely choose an abortion, do you think that would be a good thing or not?Ē.

.. is double-loaded. It's two questions in one and therefore cannot produce a valid result.

If you're going to make your findings public then you must also provide access to the questions asked and the sample demographics. This lends you integrity (or not) and allows other researchers to build on your work. I agree with your final comments about debate John, but show us the questions!
Posted by Audrey, Wednesday, 25 May 2005 2:00:58 PM
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