Authors retract Stellenbosch University study on coloured women's 'low thinking function'

2019-05-03 06:44
Stellenbosch University. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

Stellenbosch University. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

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The publishers and authors of a study on the thinking ability of coloured women on Thursday retracted the controversial article. 

The Stellenbosch University study found that the women presented with "low cognitive function and which is significantly influenced by education".

The highly-criticised study, titled "Age- and education-related effects on cognitive functioning in coloured South African women" was widely labelled racist and offensive since it was circulated on social media over the Easter weekend.

On Thursday, the editors and publishers of Aging, Neuropsychology and Cognition issued a statement retracting the article. 

"While this article was peer-reviewed and accepted according to the journal's policy, it has subsequently been determined that serious flaws exist in the methodology and reporting of the original study. In summary the article contains a number of assertions about 'colored' [sic] South African women based on the data presented that cannot be supported by the study or the subsequent interpretation of its outcome. Specific data that would be relevant to these assertions was not collected. In addition, the references provided are not supportive of the claims that are made about the participants in the study or about South African women more generally.


"Consequently, the Editors and the Publisher have taken the decision to retract this article. We have consulted with the Authors throughout this process and they have agreed with the retraction of this article," the statement read. 

Apologised for trauma

On Tuesday, Stellenbosch University apologised for trauma caused by the research article, which assessed the cognitive function of a sample of 60 South African coloured women aged between 18 and 64, News24 reported. 

In an email sent to students and staff on Tuesday, the university's deputy vice-chancellor for research, innovation and postgraduate studies, Professor Eugene Cloete, said: "We apologise unconditionally for the pain and the anguish which resulted from this article. We also have empathy towards current and past staff members, our students and our alumni who have had to endure criticism for their association with our institution."

READ: Stellenbosch University apologises for coloured women study, promises investigation

"The rectorate has therefore decided to request a thorough investigation into all aspects of this study, guided by the Stellenbosch University's Policy for Responsible Research Conduct, as well as the university's procedure for the investigation of allegations of breach of research norms and standards. Based on the outcome of this investigation, we will take corrective action, as required."

The Psychological Society of South Africa's (PsySSA) Division for Research and Methodology (DRM) denounced the study saying it was "strongly opposed to the practice of misusing classification in scientific research and the consequent perpetuation of stigma, discrimination and racism within society" as exemplified by the study.

Online petition

An online petition calling for the article to be retracted was created by Barbara Boswell, an associate professor of English at the University of Cape Town, owing to its "racist ideological underpinnings, flawed methodology, and its reproduction of harmful stereotypes of 'Coloured' women", News24 reported. 

"The authors ignore a large body of postcolonial and critical race theory which shows that the idea of 'race' is a set of articulated political relations and that racial categories are highly unstable, fluid, and provisional," she wrote in an open letter to the editorial board of the journal which published the study.

"Instead, they uncritically use the apartheid racial designation 'Coloured'. Their definition of communities so classified does not problematise the idea of 'mixed race'; incorrectly suggests that these communities are a homogeneous class; conflates 'race' and ethnicity; and suggests what can only be read as percentages of biological inheritance by 'race' and 'clan'. The latter is akin to eugenics."

She argued that the report was scientifically and fundamentally flawed, pointing out that the title, abstract and introduction infers the results are applicable to all "Coloured South African women".

"However, the authors acknowledge that they draw on a small sample size; that the 60 participants were from only one geographic community; and admit that their methodology produced a result that 'is likely not fully representative of the larger Colored population of SA'." 

'Draws on colonial stereotypes'

The article was published as scientific research but "draws on colonial stereotypes of African women, and 'Coloured' South African women specifically, as intellectually deficient", Boswell charged.

"Their own data does not support their assertions. There is no new finding here; just a repackaged Verwoerdian paradigm," Boswell continued.

In its statement, the authors say: "We have been informed in our decision-making by our policy on publishing ethics and integrity and the COPE guidelines on retractions.

"The retracted article will remain online to maintain the scholarly record, but it will be digitally watermarked on each page as 'Retracted'." 

Read more on:    stellenbosch university  |  cape town  |  racism  |  education
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