Joshua Gans asked yesterday whether UQ suppressed the Mujcic/Frijters working paper on racism. In the comments to that piece, the possibility has been raised implicitly that the paper might have been suppressed because its authors employed unethical or illegal tactics in conducting their research.
Two main concerns are raised. Let’s take them in turn.
First, the question of whether the method required “fare evasion”:
“the study seems to require agents of the researchers to commit a crime (riding without a valid ticket) and also is designed to prompt the study’s subjects (the bus drivers) into complicity in that crime and perhaps the crime of defrauding the public revenue.” ( – Jeremy Gans)
The study does not require fare evasion: what actually happened in any given instance was entirely up to the bus driver, who was the one who made the call on whether to let the research assistant ride for free. Was the “prompt” of the RA’s statement putting inordinate pressure – however defined – on bus drivers to do the wrong thing? Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the type of situation that the researchers created isn’t a regular occurrence on buses. People are human, and they will sometimes board a bus with an empty travel card in-hand. In the study, the RAs did not even ask the driver for a free ride: they said they had no money and wanted to get to station X. That is a direct and open admission of inability to pay, combined with a simple expression of desire. If making that statement equates to trying to evade a fare, then we have a lot of criminals in our midst. Is the Brisbane bus authority now going to go after every one of us who ever boarded a bus without loading enough money on our travel card, and then stated the facts of the matter out loud? Is the Brisbane bus authority going to go after every bus driver who ever took pity on an elderly lady or a harried mother of small children who obviously didn’t have enough money? (See also Mike’s response to Joshua’s original post.)
Concern 2: is it illegal to “dress up in a military uniform to try and exploit bus drivers’ sense of patriotism”? What happened in the Mujcic/Frijters design is that camouflage costumes were hired from a costume shop and some of the RAs wore them onto the buses. Here’s a photo of the costume we are talking about:
If we think that hiring and wearing such a costume in public should be illegal – because, for example, it constitutes impersonation of military officers, or something like that – then we should ban such costumes from the market, or make a rule that those who hire them must heed a warning like “Do Not Wear In Public”.
How much restriction on our individual freedom of expression, including our expression of common decency toward fellow citizens having a hard time, are we willing to accept in our society in order to save the face of big organizations like the Brisbane bus authority?