Academic Hits Back In Migration Row

Academic hits back in migration row

By David Coleman, Professor of Demography, Oxford University
Last Updated: 1:44am GMT 09/03/2007
The Telegraph

(How forecasts by Migrationwatch stirred up a political hornets' nest)

By now most readers will be aware of my little local difficulties here in Oxford with a petition organised by Student Action for Refugees.

That petition accuses me of bringing the name of the university into disrepute, demands that the university strips me of my title and, of course, thereby of my reputation and my academic future here or probably anywhere else.

This is, apparently, because of my association with Migrationwatch, my membership of the Galton Institute, and my statements, in academic publications and in the media, which have been critical of the alleged benefits of large-scale immigration.

These apparently are things that professors of demography aren't allowed to do. This petition is a distinctly gamma-minus affair. Its authors clearly have little knowledge of the subject matter and are not familiar with the relevant literature.

My inclination would be to send it back unmarked.

My feelings about the motives of those behind these misrepresentations, and their desire to suppress opinions that they do not share, are best left to the imagination.

The breathtaking mendacity of their claim that this affair is not 'personal', they are not actually seeking my removal, or that they really want a 'debate' is beneath contempt.

I will not get involved in a media brawl with such persons. But some incorrect statements have been widely circulated and need correction.

As to 'Migrationwatch', I have acted as an honorary adviser from its beginning and I am a member of its Council. The briefs on its website, however, arise from its own considerable in-house expertise.

My own writings on migration and other demographic matters over the last quarter century are readily available (see, for example, the lead article in Population and Development Review 30, 4, 2004, written with a colleague).

However I never speak on behalf of Migrationwatch; I am not its spokesman. If as occasionally happens in the media or in some debate, I am introduced as its spokesman, I immediately correct the attribution. I have been asked to give occasional comments on demographic and migration matters to press and broadcasters since about 1975 and continue to receive occasional requests. That continues with or without Migrationwatch.

Naturally there is disagreement within academic circles on the benefits and costs of migration, here and internationally. But those disagreements are (mostly) conducted in a decorous fashion on a rational basis.

Commenting on such matters to a broader public, especially in a way that questions the advantages of large migrant inflows, inevitably draws more flak.

That has been the case for some time, as others have also discovered.

I put my head above the parapet with Migrationwatch because I was alarmed at what I saw as an increasing tendency by official spokesmen, political and others, to present a somewhat partial interpretation of statistics on migration, to reinvent the migration history of Britain in ways that supported the official case, and to present analyses of the advantages of the economic and demographic effects of migration which tended to ignore its drawbacks.

Space does not permit the adequate discussion of that, but in short, it seemed to me to be leading to the creation of an establishment consensus in the 'respectable' media and elsewhere intolerant of dissenting interpretations, regarding them almost axiomatically to be heretical or malevolent.

Those who have some specific knowledge on matters of public interest should try to keep a balanced interpretation in public view. That is not to say, of course, that various eminent economists and other experts do not endorse the economic and other merits of large scale immigration, or that my views are infallible.

But they are based, I hope, on evidence and logic. Neither do I feel that there are no benefits from migration – far from it. But there is pain as well as gain.

Perhaps predictably, all that has made me unpopular in some circles and initially provoked some venomous comment in the press and especially, on an enjoyably lavish scale, in 'Socialist Worker'.

This is not the place to discuss the economic aspects of migration. But a word might be appropriate about the calculation that the net contribution by immigrants to average national income per head was equivalent to about a Mars bar a week.

That statement seems to have provoked particular ire. Such calculations depend a lot on assumptions but seldom come up with any really big net effect on the economy at the level of the individual, positive or negative.

That is because immigrants come for many reasons and many do not enter primarily to take part in the workforce, or are even qualified to do so. Some do, earn high salaries and pay lots of tax, to the general benefit. Others are economically inactive. In many countries, the net effects almost balance out.

Naturally immigrants increase overall GDP but they also increase population, and what matters is GDP per head.

A number of studies show that the net economic benefit of immigration per head of population is about 0.1% of GDP.

In the UK, GDP is about 1.3 trillion so 0.1% is about 1300 million. Per head, among 60 million people in the UK that amounts to about 22 each per year or just under 50p each per week.

Questions to do with migration are often contentious. I am much more puzzled about the fuss relating to my life Fellowship of the Galton Institute, formerly the Eugenics Society.

I find it difficult to believe that those behind the petition know anything about 'eugenics', or about the Institute or about me.

I suppose 'eugenics', a rather retro word little used nowadays, remains a boo-word for those looking for Dr Mengele under the bed.

Indeed I have come across 'Eugenics watch' on the web, which I commend to all afficionados of paranoia.

In it Dr Mengele features prominently. The Galton Institute does not do 'research on eugenics' and neither do I.

Four substantial demographic publications edited by me, with others, have appeared under its aegis, mostly published by Academic Press and Macmillan.

The pre-war British eugenics 'movement' was innocent of Continental excesses, although like many 'meritocratic' ideas it was afflicted by the simple-minded understanding of heredity at that time.

The Institute aims to promote knowledge of human heredity, discussion of its moral and ethical aspects and its consequences for human well-being. The academic distinction of its Council will be evident from a glance at its website

Its President is Professor Steve Jones of UCL, one of the country's foremost geneticists. Most of the Galton Institute's research fund at present is spent on a big reproductive health project in Ethiopia.

The pressing need to help women in the poorest countries such as Ethiopia to avoid unwanted childbearing was emphasised very recently in the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population and Development.

In the past it was associated with the pioneering efforts of Marie Stopes to help women avoid unwanted childbearing.

It attracted membership from across the political spectrum, including Arthur Balfour, Sir William Beveridge, Julian Huxley, R.A. Fisher, Bertrand Russell and other notables.

Among its Nobel Prize winning members included John Maynard Keynes, James Mead and Lord Rayleigh. Its Galton lectures have been delivered by such notables as J.D Bernal, A.H. Halsey, Josiah Stamp, Sidney Webb and Havelock Ellis.

It helped to 'invent' demography in Britain by funding the Population Investigation Committee at the LSE in 1936.

My own doctoral supervisor at the LSE, the eminent sociologist D.V.Glass, a prominent member, became the PIC's first Research Secretary in the 1930s.

One might suppose that a left-wing Jew would not have been inclined to associate with anything tainted.

Cynical friends tell me that the aim of all this activism by 'Student Action for Refugees' is to drive me to seek asylum myself.

I hope that isn't true. However if it comes to the crunch I understand that the refuge of choice these days is Canada.

It's a nice place and, of course, getting warmer. And STAR could pay my fare out of their huge Lottery grant.