Does “study” merit so much attention?

It really is a good week for media beat-ups. Hot on the heals of Phil Goff’s revelations that his Party could lose the election (see previous post), we have a beleaguered academic struggling against “PC bullies” to raise issues about Pacific Islanders’ economic contribution in NZ, according to the NZPA.

First, just what are we looking at here? The Herald refers variously to a “report” and a “study” by “economist” Greg Clydesdale, of Massey University’s management and international business department. The DomPost even labels it a “discussion document”.

A quick squiz at Clydesdale’s webpage reveals that he is an economic historian with a handful of conference papers and articles in minor academic journals to his credit. For those unfamiliar with academic ways, conference papers really don’t account for much, if anything, with the exception of a very few conferences. The standards for conferences and minor journals is usually low. Done a fair bit of this stuff myself.

The news report says that the “study” will be presented at a conference in Brazil in July. Strangely, it’s not even mentioned as work in progress on Clydesdale’s webpage. It’s also unrelated to any other research carried out by this neophyte academic based in one of the least scholarly corners of academe. It certainly doesn’t appear to have met the tests of the rigorous refereeing process required for publication in a reputable academic journal.

This is important. The NZPA is trying to endow the “study” with a value that it simply doesn’t merit. Further, there’s not much evidence of real expertise in the analysing the issues in play here. Dr Clydesdale may even be out of his depth.

What then is the problem with the report itself? If the NZPA report is to be believed, the conference paper says that, “Pacific Islanders’ poor education and low employment [are] creating an underclass and a drain on the economy.” Interestingly, the words “underclass” and “underachievers” used in the news report are not direct quotations, so it is unclear whether they appear in the actual conference paper.

If they do, then that is very unwise. They are loaded terms, and nothing in the news report suggests that the requisite analysis has been carried out to justify this categorisation of Pacific Islanders. The issues are far too complex for conclusions like that to be drawn from analysis of selected indicators, as the news report suggests.

As a number of commentators point out, seemingly in response to these specific terms being applied, the Pacific communities have made significant advances in economic and social terms since the great migrations of 40–50 years ago.

If the words “underclass” and “underachievers” do not appear in the conference paper, then that would amount to no more than mischief-making on the part of the news agency.

Whatever, a few things are clear. A great deal of attention is being paid to something that is of unproven value in academic terms, anyway. We do not know what is in this conference paper, and it would probably be better to wait until we do, before any more effort is expended on this matter. Finally, the only people profiting from this are the news media.

[Edit: I find that the webpage for Clydesdale that was first-up on google is out-of-date, and the current webpage was on page 3 of google. The text of this post has been amended accordingly.]

Elsewhere in the NZ blogosphere…

On kiwiblog, David Farrar makes the point that NZ has special obligations in respect of Samoa in particular, but writes that “A sensible debate can be held on whether the quotas are set at the right level.” Not sure about this. Whose labour market deregulation resulted in Pacific workers in NZ losing income and jobs, and having fewer skilled jobs to compete for?

Over at the Standard, Steve Pierson critiques the “study” by noting that it ignores class and history. He’s probably right, but we shall have to wait and see what’s in the “study”. If we can be bothered.

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5 Responses to “Does “study” merit so much attention?”

  1. Lazy academic calls Pacific Island workers lazy at The Standard 2.01 Says:

    […] A thoughtful analysis over at Jafapete’s […]

  2. Ben R Says:

    “Those labour market deregulation resulted in Pacific workers in NZ losing income and jobs, and having fewer skilled jobs to compete for?”

    As I pointed out over on thestandard, Clydesdale (same guy) pointed out last year that low skilled immigration adverseley affects Maori employment opportunities. Pita Sharples agreed with him.

    Doesn’t the government have a greater obligation to Maori than overseas workers?

  3. jafapete Says:

    Perhaps, but that’s a poor solution in the long-term.

    Better still, don’t you think, to create the conditions for more high-skilled jobs, for both Maori and Pacific people? The current government has been working towards this, but for a number of reasons (not least, bureaucratic inertia) has achieved too little, too late. But the previous government’s low wage-low skill policies were much worse — for both Maori and Pacific people.

    We await National’s policies to close the Trans-Tasman wage gap — which is a symptom of the low wage doldrums into which our economy seems mired — with interest. They’d better consist of more than a few tax cuts and little more labour “flexibility”, because that stuff didn’t work last time.

  4. jafapete Says:

    A longer version of BenR’s comment, which he posted earlier, but which got picked up as spam (probably because of the link).

    “On kiwiblog, David Farrar makes the point that NZ has special obligations in respect of Samoa in particular, but writes that “A sensible debate can be held on whether the quotas are set at the right level.” Not sure about this. Whose labour market deregulation resulted in Pacific workers in NZ losing income and jobs, and having fewer skilled jobs to compete for?”

    Yes, but market deregulation also lead to the loss of thousands of jobs in forestry, freezing works etc for Maori. Doesn’t the Government have an obligation to them before people from overseas?

    Greg Clydsdale (same guy) reported last year that low skilled immigration adversely affected Maori. This was supported by Pita Sharples:

    “Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says unskilled immigrants are competing with Maori for social services.

    He’s endorsing the findings of Massey University economist Greg Clydsdale, who claims current immigration policies are bad for Maori.“We are in fact importing now, and 40 percent was the figure, of unskilled people from different ethnic groups and they are going to make it even more difficult for Maori to get state housing, social services and jobs when the squeeze comes on at different times,” Dr Sharples says.”

    http://waatea.blogspot.com/2007_04_15_archive.html

  5. Clydesdale: a drain on academia « Jafapete’s Weblog Says:

    […] already posted on the Clydesdale paper, though without having a copy at hand. A pdf file of the paper is now […]

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