Speech on Motion on Safeguarding Academic Freedom

Lately, there are heated public debates arising from queries on validity of polls conducted by The University of Hong Kong Public Opinions Programme (POP) led by Robert Chung. Admittedly, I know little about public polls but like fellow citizens I have many questions to ask in light of these debates. We are looking forward to further clarifications from the researchers.
First of all, I must affirm that liberty is our core value and academic freedom is our invaluable asset. I am also certain that they are fully supported. Thus, I am not convinced and have reservation that this incident is tantamount to interference of academic autonomy. Frankly, any published academic research is subject to scrutiny or even challenge either by peers or the community. Researchers would defend and refine their arguments in search of excellence. Only studies that stand the test of debate would be accredited by both scholars and the public, and thus academic standards might be advanced.
Similarly, when polls published by Robert Chung are being queried, it should not be construed as academic interference. These polls are also accountable to the public and subject to scrutiny. It is not uncommon in the academic circle. The crux of matter is whether such queries are well founded. If they were not, researcher should endeavour to clarify and justify. So long as there are justifications, the public would support. If queries were founded instead, researchers should review and revise their studies.
The recent dispute arises from outcomes of the poll of March 2014 of POP. Among 998 respondents, 615 gave the Chief Executive a rating of 50 or above with 29 giving the score of 100, and 383 gave a rating below 50 with 91 giving nil score. Critics thus query the validity of average rating of 47.5 on the ground that over 60 percent of respondents did rate him 50 or above. They argued that the average score is not reflective of approval rating of the Chief Executive because it is distorted by too many zero scores. Thus, they claim that there is good ground to suspect POP is unfair in publishing poll results.
I must confess that I do not fully comprehend the survey methodology. As an ordinary citizen, I am also puzzled by these figures. More than 60 percent of respondents did give a rating of 50 or higher in the poll. How could the overall approval rating result in “failure’? Apparently, not every man-on-the-street knows what is meant by “averaging”. As approval rating of the Chief Executive is a sensitive issue and such polls are supposed to be indicative and influential, researchers owe the public a duty of care and credibility. Thus, it is not unreasonable for the public to raise queries.
Subsequently, Robert Chung explains that the rating of 50 is never regarded as the pass score. It only represents “half-half” or “neutral”. However, critics disagree, quoting his previous remarks. They found that Chung wrote in Public Opinion Express No 11: (Quote) “… Chris Patten has been maintaining an approval rating over the pass score of 50…” (Unquote) I do not know why did Chung make such remark then and would not dare to guess. As reader of daily newspapers, I am really confused. There are media reports of pass or failure in approval ratings of the Chief Executive and his team from time to time. Why has Chung never clarified in public such misunderstanding and still allowed the media to continue misreporting?
Another puzzle is transparency. POP has never made available raw data of surveys. In response to recent queries, raw data are posted on its website but may only be read with special software. Chung also remarks that (Quote) “Such transparency is already exceeding established academic and professional practices and should be treasured by the community.” (Unquote) Frankly, commercial secrets are understandable. However, academic studies should be fully supported by evidence and data. Transparency must be high and the current dispute reflects that it is still far from satisfactory
These are my puzzles and presumably they are also shared by others. I wish POP would give a plausible explanation and answer our queries. To conclude, there is good and creditable ground to question results of POP and it should not be regarded as intervention but reasonable queries instead.

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