Unethical Trac

February 18, 2010

Stuart Palmer's defence of the so-called Transparent Approach to Costing is unsurprising ("Let's get on the right Trac", 11 February). What is not widely recognised is that the surveys on which Trac is based would not pass the ethical review if they were part of a research council grant application. This is because institutions are threatened with the withdrawal of Hefce funding if they fail to coerce enough staff to fill in time-allocation surveys.

As a consequence, the surveys are widely thought to be instruments of centralised control that may be used against the interests of respondents. Almost entirely unreliable and invalid data are the result. I have spent my professional career designing, implementing and analysing surveys, and I would not give any credence to data collected under such conditions. The Trac Development Group would do us all a favour if it shut up shop.

Paul Whiteley, Professor of government, University of Essex.

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