Prevent Strategy using communities as “lab rats”

28th Oct 2016
Prevent Strategy using communities as “lab rats”

Ala Abbas

140 academics and experts, including Noam Chomsky, have signed an open letter protesting against the lack of scrutiny of the scientific evidence underpinning the Government’s Prevent Strategy.

The Government has been using the Extremism Risk Guidance 22+ (ERG22+) framework to assess the risk of ‘radicalisation’. The ERG22+ provides the clues to look out for when assessing who is at risk of becoming a violent extremist.

However, according to a report by the Human Rights organisation, Cage, the science behind ERG22+ is flawed. The exact contents of the study have been deemed classified by the Government. This prompted the open letter from scientists, experts and academics calling on the information behind ERG22+ to be published in the interests of science. The open letter states: “All those engaged in academic study should continue to serve the interests of society by remaining faithful to the ethical standards and science of their traditions.”

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has corroborated this request, stating: “Public policy cannot be based on either no evidence or a lack of transparency about evidence…The evidence underpinning the UK’s Extremism Risk Guidance 22+ and other data relating to this guidance, should be comprehensively published and readily accessible.”

Since the Prevent duty became statutory in primary schools and other frontline services, there have been 34 cases where children have been either removed, or threatened to be removed from their families based on this assessment tool. Referrals to Channel can come from teachers, social workers, healthcare workers and police. Last year, nearly 4,000 people were referred for assessment, including children younger than nine.

By the author’s own admission, the ERG22+ is a “work in progress”. The fact that this “work in progress” has now become a statutory duty in frontline services has led the authors of the Cage report to conclude that communities in the UK are being used as “laboratory rats” in a psychological experiment.

The psychologists who were behind ERG22+, Monica Lloyd and Christopher Dean in the National Offender Management Service, published an article about their methodology in an academic journal last year. Cage published a report to analyse this methodology last month which was reviewed by 19 academics. The report, titled ‘The science of pre-crime: The secret radicalisation study underpinning PREVENT’, concluded that the ERG22+ anti-radicalisation model is “unfit for the purpose it was created”.

The authors of ERG22+ stated: “The circumstances of its development may have detracted from its academic credentials in that it was not based on recorded and transcribed interviews or systematically analyzed, and a transparent and replicable literature review was not conducted specifically for this purpose… efforts are being made to further analyse its performance and to validate it more systematically.”

Cage has criticised the study on scientific grounds as there has been “no open professional or peer scrutiny of its scientific methodology or indeed the datasets that it is based on”.

Cage spokesperson, Ibrahim Mohamoud, said: “The fact that the Government saw it fit to place on a statutory footing, a tool that has not been subject to sufficient scientific scrutiny, should be of grave concern not only to the psychology profession itself, but to the communities it targets, and the individuals who have subjected to being ‘lab rats’ in the Government’s broader counter terrorism agenda.”The report found that the ERG22+ had been used beyond the parameters of its original case studies and had omitted any political context from its definition of extremism.

Dr Leda Blackwood, a Pyschology lecturer from the University of Bath, said: “This report raises important questions for psychologists. Most importantly, we are reminded that our psychological research can be used for purposes that it was not designed for; and that this can cause great harm.”

David Miller, a sociology Professor at the University of Bath, told the Guardian: “This is secret research, and we can’t interrogate what the process was that led to the material in the original report. It’s not academic research, it’s not social science – it’s an internal report and not in any way a sound basis for making any kind of policy.”

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