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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

This is not good enough - freedom of religion and belief project to publish "selection" of submissions

The freedom of religion and belief project has now announced that it received a total of 1937 submissions from organisations and individuals. That's a lot, so it's reasonable that it is taking some time for those concerned to check the submissions prior to publication.

However, they now say that they will publish all submissions from organisations that comply with their (vague and manipulable) guidelines. But they will only publish a "representative" selection of submissions from individuals. That is not good enough. We need a data base of all submissions to be available to the public so that we can do our own research on it and draw our own conclusions. It is not acceptable that the project can give its own, possibly impressionistic or biased, account of what was "representative". Openness and accountability require that all submissions be published unless they were expressly given in confidence.


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Edit: I've now sent the following (polite) email to protest the decision (with the usual galling typo or two corrected in this version):

Dear project members,

FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND BELIEF: DECISION ON PUBLICATION OF SUBMISSIONS

I am writing to express my dismay at the decision to publish only a selection of individual submissions that are considered to be "representative" of the opinions that have been expressed. This breaks faith with members of the public who provided submissions in the expectation that they would be published. In fairness, you might respond that this was probably not an important factor in people's minds. However, you can't be sure of this.

More importantly, your decision creates a situation where we must all take on trust what was or was not "representative". We need a data base of all submissions to be available to the public, so that we can do our own research on it and draw our own conclusions. I have read all submissions from individuals that have been published so far, and have been able to draw certain inferences (e.g. some submissions are very similarly worded, suggesting an organised campaign by evangelical organisations). I will not be able to continue to draw inferences such as this unless all submissions are published. If only a "representative" selection (as judged by you, with inevitable biases no matter how objective you attempt to be) is published, much of the value of the data will be lost. It will of far less value to other researchers, and your own eventual report will be less authoritative.

In the interests of openness and accountability, I urge you to reconsider this decision.

Yours sincerely,

Russell Blackford

2 comments:

John S. Wilkins said...

If you like, add my name to that letter.

Russell Blackford said...

Already sent, John, so a bit late to add names. Would you like to send your own to frb@humanrights.gov.au