Clydesdale: a drain on academia?

Went to the taping of Media7 last night. The episode, which screens tonight, deals mainly with the Massey University lecturer’s paper that claims that Pacific Island immigrants are a drain on the NZ economy, and reporting of Pacific communities’ affairs generally. The panel is DomPost editor Tim Pankhurst, Barbara Dreaver and Oscar Kightley.

I can confirm that the episode is bloody good, tackling hard questions on important issues in an entertaining way. It’s well worth catching tonight on TVNZ 7 at 9.30pm (if you have a Freeview box — I’ll be getting one now) or downloading tomorrow. It’s also worth watching out for an invitation at Russell Brown’s blog to a recording session on a Tuesday evening at The Classic.

I’ve already posted on the Clydesdale paper, though without having a copy at hand. A pdf file of the paper is now available — not that I am suggesting that it is worth the effort of reading. And it is an effort. But I thought I should take a look myself having blogged on it, and my fears were confirmed.

In short, the paper is not very good, and would not pass a rigorous refereeing process.

Firstly, the analysis is poor.

The first substantive section is headed “The Auckland Economy and Human Capital.” It begins by comparing the economic performance of the Auckland region to other regions in order to determine the economic effects of immigration, given that most immigrants settle here. Auckland’s lower economic performance is described. A possible explanation, apart from poor economic conditions, is said to be the quality of the human capital. A proper study of Auckland’s relative economic performance would entail a multivariate analysis that included a range of independent variables, and this is not on offer.

For some reason we detour through a discussion of the accuracy of the official “points system” to value human capital, and are told that “a logical place to examine the efficiency of a point system to value human is the income immigrant’s (sic) earn in the open market.”

We’ve now moved well away from Auckland, but never mind. We learn, of course, that immigrants earn less than NZ-born members of the labour force. Then we are told, “When the analysis is expanded to include all immigrants, the figures are more alarming”. Except that we are now looking at participation rates, with no explanation as to why we are doing so. Migrants’ rates are lower, which might explain Auckland’s poorer economic performance, we learn.

The possiblility of discrimination in the labour market is raised, but alternative explanations such as “cultural communication differences” and “team fit” may mean that the labour market outcomes (lower wages, less skilled jobs, higher unemployment) are “highly rational”. We then detour through the literature on the economic effects of diversity, learning that the evidence is equivocal (which it is) and consider the ways that “cultural barriers to communication and compatibility” can undermine group creativity.

Do you see the pattern emerging? Broad statistics are trotted out, in fairly haphazard fashion, explanations are examined which fit an argument that employers are “rational” to overlook immigrant labour as it has negative economic benefits, and alternative explanations are ignored or downplayed.

Many of the sources used are not suitable for a reputable economic study. These include an interview with “a local real estate agent.”

Further, the paper is sloppy in its use of sources. Just one example…

Drysdale writes that “Lowe (1997) analysed the availability of good quality soils and the average person’s resource use, and came to the conclusion that 4 million was the optimal population, a figure that has now been passed.” Actually, Lowe did no such thing. He wrote a review of a conference held in Wellington for the magazine New Scientist — not an academic journal — in which he described the study that Drysdale describes. Further, Lowe’s description of this paper continued, “…if trees-for-fuel is taken out of the equation, the sustainable population bounces back to 5 million”; but Drysdale omits mention of this.

And it’s poorly presented. It doesn’t even pass the “first sentence test”, referring to “un-skilled workers” in the first sentence — I always look to see whether an author can write the first sentence without making a mistake.

I’m inclined to agree with another review of the paper that the report “showed poor use of data and failed to back up claims that Pacific Islanders are creating an underclass.” Or any of the other conclusions, I’d add.

It is true that the paper contains “useful information, which was interesting and provocative”, as that reviewer put it. But if we are going to discuss these issues, then it should be done on the basis of high quality research and analysis. Clydesdale’s paper is not a good place to start.

[Postscripts:

An interesting complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority in 2004 featured Clydesdale.

I must disagree with Pankhurst, who maintains that Clydesdale’s paper is worthy of the attention: Clydesdale is not a “senior researcher”, he’s a “lecturer”. Not at all the same.]

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11 Responses to “Clydesdale: a drain on academia?”

  1. Lyn Says:

    Thanks for such a detailed consideration of this article.

  2. jafapete Says:

    Thanks Lyn.
    You’ll be interested to hear, given your point about the number of males commenting on some blogs, that most of the audience at Media7 was male, and most of them were 30s-40s. A few women showed up. Perhaps a few of us could go to a taping some time soon. It’s very sociable, with drinks available for half an hour before the cameras start rolling.

  3. Sconehead Says:

    I don’t know about Clydesale’s paper the cost/benefit of PIs but Oscar Kightly is a drain on my patience and has been since I first set eyes on him.

    Who in their right mind thinks Kightly is even remotely funny?

  4. Sconehead Says:

    I would imagine that, on balance, PIs add to the overall quality of life in NZ. For a start: where would the All Blacks be without them? And the Presbyterian and Methodist churches?

    The only significant cost is the time spent by south Auckland head teachers trying to persuade their PI ‘clients’ to go home and change out of their slippers before coming to school.

  5. MacDoctor Says:

    A fair and thoughtful analysis, Jafapete. In the interests of complete fairness to Clydesdale, however, may I point out that this is a typical conference paper? As such it does not have the rigor of a published paper and is, almost certainly, intentionally controversial.

    I found it interesting how the media took this paper to be suggesting that Pacific Island people are somehow lazy. The only take home point I could see is that PI people have a harder time integrating/finding work than others. This is not surprising considering most immigrants (and I am one of them) come to NZ with either an employable skill or money. Because of the quota system, this is not necessarily true of PIs.

    Unfortunately, my impression is that they do not seem to have any special assistance from the department of immigration to help them integrate (I could be wrong about this). If this is true it would seem to be a most unsatisfactory state of affairs, leaving the less skilled (either job or language-wise) very vulnerable.

  6. jafapete Says:

    MacDoctor, Good points.

    You are certainly correct about conference papers not having the rigour of published papers. In fact, conference papers are often drafts of papers that eventually develop into journal articles. Many researchers and academics use the conference process to get peer feedback before submission to journals for peer review. Conference papers are not ends in themselves.

    I have to say that I haven’t seen many conference papers that are intentionally controversial. Academics would have a limited tolerance for that, I suspect, but you may be right. I may have missed something.

    The media response was therefore interesting in the light of that. Apparently many other media outlets decided to give the paper the attention it warranted – none — but the DomPost thought it deserved front page treatment.

    Overall, I agree strongly with Russell Brown, who blogs, “In the circumstances, I think Clydesdale’s action in sending out a press release touting his “discussion paper” was questionable (especially when, as it transpired, he wasn’t willing or able to discuss it afterwards), and that the Dom Post should have exercised much greater diligence before sticking it on the front page. Other media organisations did.”

    I forget whether the media used the word laziness, but that did take that Pacific Island people are a “drain on the economy”. Although Clydesdale doesn’t actually use these words, the do seem a fair summary of that section of the paper. Clydesdale himself concludes that, “the Pacific Islands population is less productive and less likely to contribute to economic growth.”

  7. Lyn Says:

    Jafa – that’s a really interesting discovery re blokes. I wonder if it’s a sampling issue from where the show advertises for audience or if women just aren’t interested? Or something else? The drinks are typical and an easy way to reduce nervousness and create a receptive and reactive audience. I’d be keen re the group thing. I might even see you at Galbraiths tomorrow if you’re going.

  8. jafapete Says:

    Lyn,
    I guess Andrew Cushen’s survey will help answer some of these questions. We could speculate about the egotistical, combative nature of much current blogging practice being gender-biased in various ways.

    I have to say that the sight of so many white 30-plus men was a little jarring for me, and I am very much in that category myself. I’m sure that Russell gets more male readers than Ari just by virtue of the content, but then there are female blggers posting on PA, and it’s really busy, so if he has mostly male commenters it’s probably representative of NZ blogging as a whole.

    Should be at Galbraiths tomorrow even though it’s my turn to cook (didn’t time it as well as I usually do). I’ll be with a well known leftie or two.

  9. Lyn Says:

    I really should get in contact with Andrew since I’m thinking about looking in more detail about the gendering of cyberspace. Thanks for the reminder. Agreed re the blogging and commenting thing. The issue of online enfranchisement is something I continue to be fascinated by, especially narrative constructions both on comment threads and in terms of why we think this is the case.

    I’ve now met lprent who has said he will be in attendance tomorrow night, so in all likelihood he’ll be able to point you out to me.

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