We recently submitted work that questions the conventional wisdom around missing children for presentation at an event sponsored by the University of Portsmouth: the First International Conference on Missing Children and Adults.
Our work highlights numerous flaws in legislative, law enforcement and NGO responses to allegations of international parental abduction, including the fact that hundreds of children being advertised by missing child charities are not, in fact, missing, location unknown.
You can read for yourself the proposals that we submitted to this conference.
It is self-evident why neither law enforcement nor the largest missing child charities would want our work to become more widely known despite its firm empirical basis.
We were promised that proposals to this conference were to be “evaluated through a blind review process” focused on three criteria: intellectual merit, innovation and scope. Blind review is, of course, intended to ensure open and informed debate, and to permit consideration of controversial and groundbreaking work.
However, we have learned that our proposals were not rejected based on lack of merit. Rather, we are informed, our proposals were rejected by post-review intervention of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).
We could not have objected if anyone were to have questioned our work on grounds of academic merit. We would have welcomed the rigour of academic debate that this conference would have provided. However, that debate could not be had because the University's Institute for Criminal Justice Studies permitted us to be muzzled by the police.
When an institute of higher learning permits the academic review process to be short-circuited, liberal debate is curtailed and, in the end, everyone loses.
Academic freedom is, at heart, about permitting controversial but objectively meritorious voices to be heard. It is a freedom that we academics cherish, and one that we have defended time and again on grounds of pure principle.
We challenge the University of Portsmouth to take a stand for academic freedom and open debate, and call on the University to take the following concrete steps:
To admit that its treatment of our proposals was discriminatory and violated our freedom of expression; and
To enhance the governance structure of its Institute of Criminal Justice Studies to ensure that, in future, academic freedom will not be curtailed by the Institute's relationships with law enforcement and special interest groups, so that critical voices will not be suppressed.
Your signature in support of this petition is a concrete step that you can take to ensure our collective academic rights to free expression and open debate.