Academics and researchers

I am a social scientist and bad questionnaires make me very cross

I am a social scientist, and bad questionnaires make me very cross. In 2018, became aware that Edward Lord of the City of London corporation was doing a survey to consult on their ‘Gender Identity Policy’. I wrote to the Camden New Journal as follows:

“Speaking as a survey researcher, the questionnaire being used for this consultation is perhaps the most poorly designed I have ever seen.  The first few questions give you the general flavour. Do you agree or disagree that:

  1. A person may come to feel that their gender is different from that assigned to them at birth.
  2. A person who consistently identifies in a gender which is different to the one they were assigned at birth should be accepted by society in their stated gender identity.
  3. A person who consistently identifies in a gender which is different to the one they were assigned at birth should be able to access services commonly provided to the gender with which they now identify.

These are leading questions, designed to guide the respondent to give a pre-determined answer. They are also written in purest gobbledegook.

Imagine trying to respond to this survey if you were a recent immigrant with strong religious views, but without the benefit of a degree in cultural studies.

Can the corporation explain why a supposed consultation on ‘inclusion’ is being carried out in such a blatantly exclusionary way?”

 (The CNJ ran a story rather than my letter – tellingly, they had had no idea before I wrote to them that the consultation was taking place).

I soon realised that what was happening at the City of London was happening everywhere. Policy was being developed under the radar, and without democratic consultation. And people who believe that sex is a real and socially significant category were being silenced and called bigots.

I was astonished. I found the fact that so many people were willing to profess to believe in nonsense deeply unsettling.

I have written about the threats to academic freedom and to sex-disaggregated data collection. I signed a letter to the Guardian from academics supporting academic freedom to discuss sex and gender. I have banged on about what is happening on social media. I have given talks, including at my local Labour party branch.

I am one of the founder signatories to the Labour Women’s Declaration. I took a motion supporting academic freedom to my union congress (which, shockingly, was narrowly defeated). I am one of the founders of UCL Women’s Liberation, which co-organised a conference at UCL with WPUK in February 2020. I have alerted my fellow quantitative social scientists to the threat to the sex question in the 2021 Census, and  co-ordinated a letter from eighty social scientists to the census authorities.

I published a paper “Sex and the Census: Why surveys should not conflate sex and gender identity” in the International Journal of Social Research Methodology.

Everyone who signed the letter to the Guardian on academic freedom in 2018 was targeted with online death threats from a Facebook page run by an anonymous person and followed by a number of enthusiastic students.

I reported this to the police, but they said there was little they could do. This was frightening of course.

Following UCU congress in 2019, myself and other women who put a motion supporting academic freedom to support sex and gender faced defamation from an academic at another university who falsely accused us (on twitter) of advocating violence, including sexual assault, of a junior female academic. The man who made these extraordinary and absurd allegations is an increasingly prominent figure in the union. His branch exec supported him, and a complaint to UCU against him was not upheld.

A small number of academic staff at UCL tried to shut down the UCL Women’s Liberation/WPUK (Woman’s Place UK) conference. While only 10 UCL academics signed a letter to the provost demanding the conference be shut down (for context, UCL has over 7,000 academic staff), six of these had EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) roles, and they succeeded in creating time-consuming administrative problems for us.

I was de-platformed from a research methods seminar by Natcen (National Centre for Social Research) for asserting the value of sex-based data. I never believed such a thing could happen within quantitative social science. This was a huge shock, and I agonised about going public. But I am very glad I did. If we don’t speak openly about these things, most people will remain genuinely clueless about the idiocy and authoritarianism of the genderist movement.

Alice Sullivan, Professor of Sociology, UCL