Motion on “Safeguarding Academic Freedom” (2014.03.27)

President, recently, someone has openly queried that the opinion polls conducted by Robert CHUNG, Director of the University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme (the POP), are problematic, thereby giving rise to heated discussion in society. I do not have much understanding of the methodology of the POP, but after listening to the recent controversies in all quarters, I believe many people like me have a lot of questions in their minds. I hope the researchers concerned can give further explanation.

First of all, I wish to point out that freedom is a core value of Hong Kong and academic freedom is a precious asset of Hong Kong. I believe no one will disagree with me. But in my opinion, the incident this time around should not be elevated to such a level that it is regarded as an interference with academic freedom. In fact, after a scholar has published his academic research, he may be queried or even challenged by other scholars, universities or people in the community. The scholar concerned will defend his research with a view to perfecting his work. Only researches which can withstand challenges will be accepted by the academia and society, and attributable to enhancing the academic level.

Similarly, some people have queried the methodology of Robert CHUNG after publication of the POP results. It is not sensible for us to say that he is subject to interference. The POP will also have to face the public and queries of the non-academic community. This often occurs in the academia. The problem is whether the queries of the non-academic community are justifiable and supported with evidence. If no such evidence can be provided, the researchers can defend their position by submitting their arguments. As long as they can give a clear explanation on how their work is conducted, it will certainly be supported by society. However, if queries are justified, the researchers should also conduct a review.

The controversy rising from the incident this time around is due to the fact that the survey under the POP conducted in March is queried by a person. During the survey, 615 of the 998 respondents have given 50 marks or above to the Chief Executive. In addition, 29 of them have given 100 marks, 383 of them have given 50 marks or below and 91 of them have given zero mark. The one who has queried the findings opines that the Chief Executive’s popularity stood at 47.5 according to the POP, but in fact more than 60% of the respondents have given him 50 marks or above. He considers that the methodology of the survey by adopting the average mark cannot accurately reflect the Chief Executive’s popularity because too many respondents have given zero mark. It is therefore doubtful that the POP has not published the data in an impartial manner.

I do not understand the methodology of the survey. But as an ordinary citizen, I feel very much puzzled after reading the relevant data. As more than 60% of respondents have given 50 marks or above, why is the Chief Executive’s popularity below the passing mark? Certainly, the general public do not understand that the average mark is adopted in the methodology. As the popularity of the Chief Executive is a sensitive issue, and the opinion polls can serve as an important indicator with a substantial impact on society, the person-in-charge of the survey should have a responsibility to make sure that the findings are convincing to all. So, when someone has challenged the findings, we cannot say that this is unreasonable.

Robert CHUNG later explained that he has never made 50 marks as the “passing” criterion of popularity. He also said that 50 marks only meant “one half” or “neutral”. But those who questioned him have raised examples to refute him, revealing that he did say that 50 was a passing mark. According to the 11th edition of POP Express: “However, as a whole, Chris PATTEN’s rating has always stood above 50 (passing mark) throughout the years.” Why did Robert CHUNG say something like that? I do not want to give judgment easily. As a citizen who reads newspapers, one may feel very confused. The newspapers often say that the Chief Executive or a particular government official has failed to get a passing mark in his rating. Why have we never heard of any clarification from Robert CHUNG? Why has he all along allowed misinterpretation of what he meant by the newspapers?

Transparency of the opinion polls is another factor which confuses people. The POP has never fully disclosed the original data of ratings. When someone has raised a query, they will post the original data on the website. But special software is needed to open it. Meanwhile, Robert CHUNG said on his website, “This kind of transparency has exceeded general academic and professional requirements. I hope that people from all walks of life can cherish.” Honestly speaking, you may talk about business secret in commercial sector. In academic research, however, sufficient evidence or data should be provided to support your research analysis. High transparency is not only a matter of course but also indispensable. The current incident obviously gives us an impression that transparency is very insufficient.

The above is the confusion that I feel. I believe it is also what many people are doubtful about. I hope that the POP can provide us with some convincing explanation to rid us of our queries. All in all, if someone who casts a reasonable doubt while providing certain supporting justification after the announcement of the opinion poll conducted by the POP, I opine that the query should not be regarded as interference. Instead, it should be treated as addressing the issue.

I so submit.

Scroll to Top