How newspapers report old news

In the SMH this morning, there is a story on the rorting of Youth Allowance. With an added error*, it is the same story reported on this blog several weeks ago. We both got it from the Bradley report.

But because the Bradley report is old news, we get this formulation:

There was “strong evidence” that the allowance was “quite poorly targeted and inequitable”, the authors of the Bradley review into higher education told the Federal Government.

Leaving vague when they told the federal government, and by what means they told the federal government.

If something is important, I don’t think there is a great problem in reporting it later if it was missed the first time. But I dislike media reports that make the original source unclear.

* The error is this: “The Government is considering a significant tightening of the payment to bring it in line with the Family Benefit payment. The change would mean some 27,000 students now receiving it would be ineligible.” In fact, this is a reference to making more students eligible (not ineligible) by lifting the amount parents can earn before students start losing their benefit. The added ineligibility would come from tightening the “independence” criteria.

Why do squatters get to stay so long in university property?

Melbourne readers will probably have heard of a long-running occupation by squatters of Melbourne University-owned terrace houses in Carlton (disclosure: some of my colleagues have been involved in this issue, but I have not). The squatters call themselves the Student Housing Action Collective, and have rested their case for staying partly on the ‘homelessness’ caused by a very tight inner Melbourne rental market.

What’s interesting about this case, I think, are the assumptions it reveals about the relationship between universities and their students. Legally, this looks like a straightforward trespass case. Many of us would like to live in a Faraday St terrace house, but none of us have the right to do so without the landlord’s permission, and we would quickly be thrown out if we tried to move in. But in this case, the squatting has dragged on for many months.

Every party to this dispute has been acting as if the normal rules do not apply. The squatter-activists (the squativists?) correctly judged that the University would not just throw them out. The University has been negotiating with the squatters despite its strong legal case against them. The media has been reporting the story as if the squatters have a case for staying.

In an Age op-ed this morning, housing lawyer Chris Povey put his finger on the underlying assumption:

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Literary luvvie draws long bow

The Lavartus Prodeo Agincourt Awards for the Longest Bow – designed to highlight arguments built on exaggerated and hence tenuous links – don’t seem to have continued beyond the initial nomination and my counter-nomination of the nominator (glass houses, etc).

However, the SMH published a worthy entrant yesterday. As regular readers may recall, the literary luvvies are campaigning strongly against unrestricted ‘parallel importing’ of books into Australia, which would allow booksellers to import any book even if it is, or will be, also issued by a local publisher. The issue is the subject of a Productivity Commission inquiry.

In the SMH yesterday, author and journalist Malcom Knox tries to draw a connection between claimed low readership of books in India and the fact that India is a ‘land of piracy’, and a further connection to say that this is relevant to Australia
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Did Katherine Wilson (aka Sharon Gould) hoax the wrong magazine?

As Jason Soon and Don Arthur correctly predicted yesterday, ‘Sharon Gould’ is left-wing activist Katherine Wilson.

Jason and I have a bit of a history with Wilson, having been involved in a lively 2006 debate at Lavartus Prodeo on think-tanks and the significance (or otherwise) of who funds them. Wilson tried to wipe her past by getting LP to delete her posts and comments, but it all lives on in the National Library’s archives.

The pieces of the story are really starting to fit together now. Wilson knows the right is evil, but she hasn’t actually read very much of what they say, and is vague on the differences between the various right-of-centre groups and magazines.

For a hoax using gullibility for pro-genetic modification views – Wilson is an anti-GM activist – the target should have been the IPA Review. The IPA has published lots of pro-GM stuff over the years (eg this). The more conservative Quadrant contributors, as I argued on Tuesday, are much less likely to be pro-GM, and indeed likely to be worried about the way genetic science is developing (Quadrant doesn’t have much on its website, but this is the kind of thing I am thinking of).

Of course, IPA Review editor Chris Berg does not have Keith Windschuttle’s reputation as a footnote fetishist, but to make the political point on GM foods he should have been the target. Wilson hoaxed the wrong magazine.
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The strange Quadrant hoax

Crikey, in one of its rare (if minor) scoops, reports that Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle was hoaxed into publishing this piece on scare campaigns and science reporting by mythical biotechnologist Sharon Gould.

But what point is this hoax intended to make?

According to the Crikey article,

In a ruse designed to lampoon Windschuttle’s historical research, which began by checking the footnotes of leading historians, the article contains some false references.

Maybe there is a very small irony here, but there is not much of an analogy. Academic historians writing on their own subject should be held to high standards of accuracy. Editors of generalist magazines publishing tens of thousands of other people’s words a month on a wide variety of topics cannot be expected to check every claim and every reference.

From a reader’s perspective, it’s hard to see the difference between the hoax article and the error-ridden piece Crikey published on think-tanks a few weeks ago, except that “Sharon Gould” lied about his/her true identity, and Crikey‘s Andrew Crook used his real name (I assume; I had never heard of him prior to this). They are both non-credible pieces that ideally should not have been published, but in a world of limited editorial resources they both slipped through the net.

Nor is it at all clear that this hoax has the meaning attributed to it by Crikey journalist Margaret Simons on her blog:
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Will the downturn have a scarring effect on graduate jobseekers?

In the SMH last Friday, there was a warning that the economic downturn may have a scarring effect on new jobseekers:

“Invariably in a recession we have this problem where a generation can get lost,” said the deputy director of the Melbourne Institute, Mark Wooden.

Most at risk are youth from disadvantaged areas who, in the past, have stood a chance of finding decent-paying jobs and learning skills they will hold for life.

Though they are not ‘disadvantaged’ in the sense meant by the SMH article, I have wondered in the past about graduates who enter the labour market during a recession. Does it have has long-term effects on their career success?

More than at other times, during recessions new graduates need to take jobs that don’t use their qualifications but give them an income. At the very least, they delay accumulating experience that should be rewarded in future professional or managerial jobs. At worst, employers for jobs that would use the graduate’s qualifications might infer from a CV of full-time clerical or sales jobs that there is a reason the graduate has been overlooked for more demanding or responsible positions. The early bad luck of graduating into a recession could have a lasting, scarring effect on job success.

The early 1990s recession provides a guide as to what might happen in this downturn. The Graduate Destination Survey records that 1992 and 1993 were the shocker years for graduate employment. From the mid-1980s to 1990, un- or under-employment of graduates had been around 10% (the measure is percentage of graduates who are looking for full-time work who have found it). In 1992 and 1993 un- or under-employment was nearly 30%.
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Peter Karmel, RIP

Peter Karmel, who died this week, was one of the most distinguished Australian educational leaders of the second half of the twentieth century.

He was perhaps best known for his report on schools in 1973 for the Whitlam government. Disputes still alive today have their origins in decisions taken following that report, from recurrent federal grants to state schools to graded funding to private schools. The Karmel report recommended funding based on the needs of the school, which survived until the Howard government replaced it with a funding formula (at least until it broke down from so many exceptions) based on the income of parents. However, the idea that for private schools – though not for public schools – grants should be adjusted based on some measure of income or wealth has survived.

His main career, however, was in universities. He was Vice-Chancellor of two, Flinders and the ANU, and served in the late 1970s and early 1980s as chair of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, an intermediary agency between the universities and colleges of advanced education and the government. Such bodies fell out of favour during the previous Labor government, though Karmel and others continued to call for their restoration.
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Will the downturn hit private school enrolments?

The Australian this morning suggests that the economic downturn, combined with rising private school fees, will send students back into the public school system:

Having already noticed a drift from the private system to public schools, Kate Cooper, principal of Mosman Public School in the heart of Sydney’s wealthy north shore, told The Australian yesterday that she expected the movement to grow this year, partly as a result of the global financial crisis.

The SMH ran a similar story a couple of months ago.

If this does turn out to be the case, it would be consistent with my general thesis on school funding: that as affluence rises, people want to spend more on education, and that this explains both the long-term growth in private schools and the consistent polling showing that people want more money spent on public education. Correspondingly, in a downturn I would expect these trends to moderate.

However, the underlying trend will remain towards private schools. Despite the particularly intense controversy over private school policy during the Howard years, the actual enrolment shifts were not hugely different from the previous Labor government. On average during the Hawke-Keating years private schools gained .36% of market share per year. Under the Howard government, the average was .39% of market share per year.
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