Disagree with Dr Herbert Gayle, but don't ignore him

Sunday, June 25, 2017

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We have had our own disagreements with his conclusions at times, but Dr Herbert Gayle, an anthropologist at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, has generally been doing critically important and path-breaking research.

Of special note is his work on crime and violence in all its gruesome manifestations in Jamaica and the Caribbean and the comparison of his results with international trends.

His research is based on painstaking, detailed and comprehensive gathering of data often in circumstances where he is putting his personal safety at risk. The conclusions he derives from his careful analysis of the extensive data he has collected are the basis for his cogent policy recommendations.

The problem is that not enough people are listening to what he has been saying. Disagreeing with him is fine, but we ignore him at our own loss. Some have vilified him on the basis of what his research has led him to articulate. Yet, to his credit, Dr Gayle has remained undaunted and perseveres as could be seen recently at last Wednesday's UWI seminar on “Taming the Caribbean Crime Monster”.

Interestingly, listening, the prerequisite for comprehension and learning, is not our strong point.

Jamaica's culture is based on verbal rather than the literary appropriation of information. The relay of information verbally after two or three rounds bears little resemblance to the original, which may not even have been accurate. Pride and hubris make people repeat as “gospel truth” completely false information.

Our school system does not put enough emphasis on children 'learning to listen', therefore they memorise without comprehension. They are not sufficiently encouraged to be receptive to new ideas that challenge or contradict the conventional wisdom which they were forced to memorise.

Moreover, for many there is the unfounded implicit assumption that people from the University of the West Indies are academics who have only a tenuous connect to reality.

Dr Gayle's data-based recommendations vindicate the claim by Dr Richard Bernal, the UWI's pro-vice chancellor for global affairs that the university, as a pool of experience and expertise, has always provided research- based, pragmatic policy recommendations on the challenges and problems which the Caribbean has had to confront.

There are several important points to capture from this. First, universities are important to economic development in a knowledge-driven global economy. UWI is a valuable but underappreciated resource. Dr Gayle's work is proof of this. Valuable information and new research are no use if we do not listen. His is particularly the case of crime and violence where successive governments and police leadership seem to rename and repeat policies. Given the escalation in murders, it is clear that the problem cannot be brought under control by more of the same. New policies need to be applied and these can only come from a new and better understanding derived from fact-based analysis and research.

Dr Gayle is providing some new, uncomfortable insights which challenge existing stereotypes and he should be heard and heeded.




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