NMHRC to investigate QUT-Noonan claims

September 27, 2007

Well, interesting.
In my previous post on the QUT shenanigans, there’s mention of the National Health and Medical Research Council – the peak body for research ethics in Australia, possibly investigating claims that QUT PhD student Michael Noonan may have breached protocols in relation to his research project “Laughing at the Disabled”.

I emailed the acting Director of Progam Assurance, Dr Gordon McGurk (see below)

Dear Gordon, I am writing as a concerned academic.
I would like to know if the NHMRC is investigating claims of unethical research practices made against QUT PhdD student Michael Noonan in relation to his thesis “Laughing at the disabled”.
I understand that Mr Noonan may well have violated well-established ethical guidelines for dealing with Indigenous people in some aspects of the video work he is compiling towards his thesis. There is an allegation against him that he has possibly misrepresented May Lulu Dunne and obtained a consent form/release form from her under false pretenses, or worse.
Drs Hookham and MacLennan are facing serious misconduct charges for raising some of these issues and from my understanding of their case, they have been badly treated by QUT for blowing the whistle on what they saw as poor supervision of Mr Noonan’s thesis and the ethical issues surrounding his work with both disabled persons and Indigenous Australians.
As a supervisor of postgraduate students I am familiar with ethics considerations in relation to thesis work and other research projects in Australia and elsewhere. I also know that in most cases they are stringently enforced. I can only wonder at what the breakdown was at QUT in relation to Mr Noonan’s thesis.
Are you in touch with QUT over this matter and do you intend to conduct any inquiries of your own, or to cause the NHMRC to investigate this matter further?
Thanks
Martin

About an hour later I received a response:

Dear Martin

Following yesterday’s revelations regarding the alleged lack of consent or ethical approval before filming Ms Dunne, I am making this issue a matter of urgency. I have put together a brief for the Chief Executive to alert him and the executive to what may have happened.

The NHMRC had planned to investigate other alleged breaches following the conclusion of the legal action between QUT and Drs Hookham and MacLennan. However, this most recent information may precipitate some action sooner than planned.

Yours sincerely

Gordon McGurk