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MPs Hit Out At "Unethical" Academics For Sending Them "Spoof" Emails During The Pandemic

MPs Hit Out At 'Unethical' Academics For Sending Them 'Spoof' Emails During The Pandemic

MPs have criticised the project conducted by university researchers

3 min read

MPs and unions have heavily criticised a group of academics for sending fictitious emails to their offices as part of a research project monitoring responses.

Academics from King's College London (KCL) and the London School of Economics (LSE) sent over 1,000 emails to MPs from invented people who claimed to be concerned about their financial situation during the pandemic.

The emails included fake job descriptions, including a lawyer and a cleaner, and in some cases claimed to support a specific political party, in a bid to research whether these factors had an  impact on MPs' responses.

But the study, which was conducted alongside academics from other European universities where acacemics sent similar emails to their national parliaments, has been described as "unethical" by MPs.

Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Labour MP Sarah Owen said: "To think that people faked being constituents and took up time when we could have been helping real people is totally unacceptable. 

"Our time is paid for by the taxpayer and this is a gross exploitation of that.

She added: "It is unethical, it is a waste of taxpayers' money and it shows a complete lack of understanding of the pressures facing our office resources a year into a global pandemic."

Responding to the comments, the Commons deputy speaker Eleanor Laing said it was a "disgraceful situation" and revealed that Speaker Lindsay Hoyle was planning to write to the academics.

"At a time like this, it is hard to see how any responsible researcher could have thought that sending over a thousand spoof emails adding to this workload was a good idea, or how any responsible ethics committee could have approved it, or how any responsible body could have decided to fund it," she said.

Professor Rosie Campbell, professor of politics at King’s College London said in a statement that it was "absolutely not our intention" to waste MPs' time, and that the group wanted to "sincerely apologise if we misjudged the imposition this would place on MPs and their staff".

Campbell confirmed that the study had been approved by the university's ethics committee. 

"The committee were of the opinion that, on balance, the potential benefits of the research outweighed the burden of time spent responding to two emailed queries to each MP," she wrote. 

She said the project, which began on 2 November 2020, involved sending two "basic emails" to each MPs office, after concluding they would "not be too burdensome".

The academic said "debriefing emails" were being sent out by the researchers which would give MPs the opportunity to have their data removed from the project.

But the MPs' staff branch of the GMB union sent a letter to KCL accusing the research of being "ethically dubious".

A spokesperson for the LSE said the university was not directly involved with the study despite one of their PhD students being listed as an author.

 

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