Science in the courts
The article “Research rising” in the January 2012
issue is a very curious bit of reporting and anal-
ysis. First, while it is popular to read the Supreme
Court decision on the Insite safe-injection facility
as research evidence trumping politics, in fact,
Insite continues as a result of a long political
struggle of which the Supreme Court decision
was only a part.
Second, the article contains a number of
broad claims that are themselves dubious and
for which no evidence is provided. For example,
to claim that “The vast majority of policy in this
country right now has been made for political
reasons, not based on scientific evidence,” is an
extraordinary statement for which no evidence
is provided. Much of what government does by
way of regulation is based, at least in part, on
work by government and other scientists (for
example, food safety and chemical regulation).
Similarly, to say that “Back when I was in grad
school ... one of the potential jobs was working
for government on policy. That’s no longer the
case” will come as a surprise both to govern-
ments who hire and to the graduates of schools
of public policy that have recently expanded
across the country.
Perhaps most importantly, the article fails to
grapple with the fact that courts are often lousy
at processing and understanding social science
evidence. A number of studies in the U.S. and
Canada have demonstrated this. The decision of
the Supreme Court of Canada in Chaoulli is a
recent example. Rebecca C. Harris’s
provides a U.S. perspective. Thus, it
is incorrect to say governments never or badly
consider scientific evidence and that courts
Dr. Fafard is an associate professor in the graduate school of
public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa.
The lure of expertise in court
A word of caution to those who see the Supreme
Court of Canada decision on Insite as a victory
for expert-led evidence in an epic battle between
science and the law: As tempting as the role of
crusading expert in the service of science may
be, it is not what is expected of those who are
invited to proffer their inferences in a court of law.
Dr. Melchers is a professor of criminology at the University
Teaching doesn’t define professors
There’s much to be said against the suggestion
by Messrs. Clark, Trick and Van Loon to create
institutions that abandon research in favour of
undergraduate education (“Time to consider a
new kind of university,” December 2011). I shall
concentrate on what I consider the most basic
of their mistakes: the authors seem bewildered
in their notion of what a university is.
They point out that “The word ‘university’ is
universally recognized by Ontario students, their
families and employers. Many will not accept
anything that is perceived to be less.” They fail
to understand that the reputation attached to the
word “university” acknowledges the strength of
the very model they wish to change, in which
research and teaching mutually support each
other. The authors propose nothing but the usur-
pation of an unmerited title.
The university has repeatedly returned to the
model of experts providing instruction in their
areas of expertise. Such return is not “mission
creep” but a realization of the university’s being.
In the Middle Ages, those who wished to learn
sought out experts, in monasteries and cathe-
drals. When the experts and their students
formed corporate bodies to represent their
interests, the university was born. To label an
institution providing instruction at the hands
of anyone other than experts a “university” is
simply to lie.
Since the authors misunderstand what a uni-
versity is, it is in no way surprising to find that
they misunderstand what faculty are. In seeking
to limit research in their proposed new universities
to research about “teaching effectiveness,” they
reduce faculty to teachers, rather than persons
equipped to teach by their expertise in valid and
rigorous disciplines. Of course teaching is impor-
tant, but it fails to define professors because it
neither distinguishes them from other sorts of
teachers nor recognizes their expertise.
Canadian universities suffer under many
shortcomings, most of which arise from the sep-
aration of undergraduate teaching from research.
A formal divorce can hardly be expected to
improve this state of affairs.
Dr. Lawrence is an assistant professor in the department of critical
studies at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan.
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