"A simple test at the age of three can predict if children will grow up to be a burden on society, New Zealand researchers say.Three year olds. Imagine the state deciding a three year old you know will be a criminal one day. Imagine what the state will do to that child. Imagine being that child.
The tests on the brains of young children can reveal who is likely to become part of the minority of adults to use the biggest share of social services, new findings from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study show."
This is Minority Report on steroids. It's not even pre-criming - it's just class and race profiling, because we all know which (poor, brown) children Professor Poulton is talking about:
"We also found that members of this group tended to have grown up in more socio-economically deprived environments, experienced child maltreatment, scored poorly on childhood IQ tests and exhibited low childhood self-control," Poulton said.
The problem here is not that people without enough are a burden on society. It is that we have structured our society so that many people do not have enough but the rich can thrive. Finding ways to blame three year olds for intergenerational, entrenched poverty and racism is a quite the side-step, even for the most vicious of benefit bashers. I wonder how well Professor Poulton's test predicts white collar crime? I'm sure it takes into account the institutional racism which study after study has identified in our criminal legal system. And I'm certain he found a way to pay attention to the fact that the children of rich people may not need to access social services in the same way because they are well-protected by the wealth of their parents.
Now to the conflict of interest, which hasn't even made the small print. The article fails to mention that Professor Poulton is also the Chief "Science" Advisor at MSD. It does say:
"The findings were enabled by a "unique situation" in which governmental data on benefits, criminal convictions and health services could be analysed alongside the smaller scale but more detailed information gathered by the Dunedin study."So people's INDIVIDUAL information, about accessing benefits they need, and criminal records, and how and when they have needed healthcare has been handed over to researchers who are interviewing people one-on-one about their lives. Because of the "unique situation" of Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton - benefiting from government money as a researcher in one role, making decisions about what counts as research and evidence in another while he is part of the vast collection of data about us that is the Integrated Data Infrastructure.
I wrote six weeks ago of my concerns at an increasingly pressured community sector being forced to hand over individual level client data to the government if they wanted to continue to be funded:
"The same database which has your tax details, benefit details, student loan, car ownership history - hell, there's no limit to what the Integrated Data Infrastructure might grow to include. Let's be honest, there's been next to no public conversation about the developing surveillance system this government has created, and what's appropriate to link and why."How much money is being spent on the Integrated Data Infrastructure? Enough to feed and house all the people in New Zealand that are hungry and living in sub-standard housing? How much money is Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton getting for his longitudinal research - particularly in a climate where other longitudinal research funding is being cut? And just how political are these decisions? Designed, say, to fit an agenda which criminalises poverty? Let's not forget how Bill English recently justified cutting funding to New Zealand's largest longitudinal study (not Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton's):
Finance Minister Bill English said the decision was more about providing "value for money" rather than saving money. He suggested the Government was not gaining adequate access to the data.The brutality of this government is, I believe, not yet fully appreciated, when they write off three year olds and the families they come from as "professional agency hoppers" and a "burden on society." Let's not forget too, the changes in child protection for these written off three year olds - changes which without doubt at some point will include introducing private profit motives.
"There's a whole history behind the Growing up in New Zealand study, there have been ongoing negotiations for some time, to make sure it meets the Government's needs.
"To some extent the longitudinal studies aren't as powerful as they used to be, because we've got our own administrative data."
What was important to the Government was the "availability of the data".
This government is finding new ways to make money from those already carrying the burden of greed in our increasingly unequal world. Some of it just looks like the old ways - giving money, jobs and positions of influence to their mates, exploiting conflicts of interest for all they are worth, making those at the bottom of the heap increasingly vulnerable through shrinking protections and safety nets. Some of it looks newer - privatising prisons and maybe at some point child protection.
Devastating as all these changes are for those with the least, the biggest damage of all may be to our imaginary world. Three year olds look like children to most of us now. But if Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton has as much sway as his title suggests, when will they start looking - especially the poor brown ones - like future criminals? And what will that mean to how we treat them - or how we allow the state to treat them?