MRC report of high quality say UCT academics

28 May 2002
THE FOLLOWING letter by Professor Hugh Corder, in his capacity as Chair of the Academic Freedom Committee, appeared in recent Council papers. We have reproduced it here as we feel it is of interest to the UCT community.

"The Academic Freedom Committee of the University of Cape Town (UCT) has noted with concern indications that the National Government appeared to be delaying release of the MRC scientific research report on HIV/AIDS mortality, through public criticism of the report by officials and agencies prior to its release. A South African government media release of a statement by cabinet members on 26 September moreover directly threatened action against MRC employees for placing themselves as 'government employees', 'in a hostile position vis à vis the government'.

"We wish to place on record that we have the highest regard for, and full confidence in, the authors of this report who include reputable MRC, UCT and international researchers with well-established track records in mortality and statistical research.

"Furthermore, we believe that the report itself is of the highest scientific quality. Assumptions about data and models employed have been made explicit, the principal findings have been clearly described, interpretations are plausible and meet accepted scientific criteria for validity. The findings have been stated with appropriate scientific caution with a full exploration by the authors of limitations that might theoretically threaten the validity of the report. We note also that the report has passed through an extensive process of internal and external (including international) scientific review. We acknowledge that the release of scientific information with serious policy implications requires a process of review. Its aim is to enrich the quality of findings and to allow for appropriate and timely policy development. This process should not unduly obstruct or delay timeous release of important scientific information.

"A powerful interested party – such as the State in this instance – while contributing to the review process, and while being entitled to use its own agencies to validate or verify scientific findings, should not allow the impression to develop that such agencies might end up restricting access to vital statistics by bona fide researchers in future. Similarly there should be no suggestion of undue pressure being brought to bear on research institutions or researchers to place political constraints on any aspect of the research process. Finally, we note that freedom of scientific research is protected by our Constitution.

"The report provides crucial information pertinent to the paramount public health problem of South Africa and much of sub-Saharan Africa today. We very much hope that its findings will contribute constructively to the manner in which the HIV/AIDS epidemic is dealt with in our country."

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