POP Site from the Editor - Professionalism Allows no CompromiseBack

Note: This article represents the view of the author and not the University of Hong Kong.

It was more than 6 months since I last wrote "From the Editor" for our POP Site. I wrote four last year, on January 1, April 4, July 7 and October 10. I wrote the last piece on January 6 this year, and then stopped for quite some time ...

Not because I have lost interest, but because our research workload was real heavy. June 4, July 1 and September 12 are all important dates. Doing every piece of research well is already difficult. God knows, that apart from opinion surveys, so many things popped up on their own.

After July 1 and November 23 last year, calls for universal suffrage thundered around us. First came the forums on constitutional reform, then came the consultations, and then NPC's interpretation of the Basic Law, followed by yet another round of consultation, seminars, rallies, and gatherings ... They have added tremendous pressure on our work.

While society was at such a difficult time, and myself overseas attending a conference on opinion research development, controversies erupted on the ranking of universities in Hong Kong ... Naturally, such debates on narrow interests rather than the public good must be put aside for the time being.

After going through last year's July 1, then this year's January 1, April 11, June 4 and another July 1, the myth of rally head-counts is gradually being resolved. But, between science and democracy, is conflict inherent?

Of course not. The spirit of democracy stems from the respect for rationality and the value of individuality. When individual rationality develops into a culture, there comes the spirit of science.

As members of the social science research community, we of course rely on science. As intellectuals living in a free society, we no doubt believe in academic freedom, and a democratic system which protects academic freedom and free speech. But most important of all, between science and democracy is our conscience as intellectuals.

"Saying is easier than doing", this is a revelation which has come to me after over ten years of conducting opinion research. In countless occasions, I have explained to media practitioners and policy makers the importance of conducting proper surveys, and adhering to professional standards in reporting opinion polls. However, years after years, people's knowledge of the function, role, value and ethic of opinion polls has stayed more or less the same as that before the Polling Incident. The correction of one single decimal place requires the effort of moving a mountain.

Perhaps, an opportunity has now arrived ...

With the Legislative Council Election approaching, opinion surveys and exit polls have become active again. We are fortunate this year to have the support of Civic Exchange, so that we can concentrate on our research work, and then spend our remaining energy on the educating the media and the students. Two, three and four workshops have already been arranged, with more to come ... Perhaps a professional code of conduct complying with international standards will finally appear.

Sailing on the wind of people's power, a team of volunteer student researchers has been formed. Students joined the team not for money, nor for credits, but out of their genuine quest for truth. In resolving the myth of rally head-counts, their contribution cannot be ignored.

Let all conspiracy theories disappear, and false accusations based on vested interests die way, as we move towards a better society.

For opinion researchers like us, the spirit of science and professional ethics are our core values.

Robert Ting-Yiu Chung
July 31, 2004