The sin of omission was Boston's, not ours

February 2, 2012

Your readers will emerge much better informed about the Boston College-Belfast Project case having read Peter Geoghegan's informed piece rather than John Brewer's speculative letter on the subject (respectively, "If trust is lost, future promises naught but troubles for research", 19 January, and "Inescapable burden of 'guilty knowledge'", 26 January). Geoghegan at least spent considerable time researching before he wrote.

In his letter, Brewer claims that "this is not a tale of researchers betrayed by Boston College", before going on to allege that the research team (of which I was a member) was largely responsible for its own misfortune. Clearly, sense gives way to servility. Don't offend the institution, old chap - what say you?

While admitting that the Belfast Project was laudable to begin with, Brewer switches lanes to charge that it was compromised by project leader Ed Moloney's publication of the book Voices from the Grave (2010). If it were so obvious, as Brewer claims, that the police would come looking for the tapes upon publication of the book, why didn't Boston College with its phalanx of lawyers state this at the time rather than press for publication while securing royalty contracts for two of its senior staff?

Brewer makes the point that "informed-consent forms always explain that confidentiality will be maintained only to the full extent provided under the law". Always...except when the forms are issued by Boston College. You would imagine that an informed writer would draw attention to the fact that nothing of the sort was explained in the consent form drawn up by the institution and given to the interviewees.

The contract form stated explicitly that the interviewee would have "ultimate power" of release. So when Brewer pleads, "spare a thought for the respondents duped by the reported concealment from them of the risks of participating", he fails to mention it was concealment perpetrated by the institution responsible for drawing up the contract - Boston College.

Moloney was of course right when he suggested that this was one reason why Boston College never made the risks explicit in the contract. That's why he told The Boston Globe newspaper that had the college done so there would have been no Belfast Project. Neither Moloney nor I would have been associated with it.

Anthony McIntyre, Drogheda, Republic of Ireland

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