Chapter 12 – Private People, Secret Places: Ethical Research in Practice Iain Hay and Mark Israel Activities

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Chapter 12Private People, Secret Places: Ethical Research in Practice
Iain Hay and Mark Israel
Activities
Activity 12.1: RESEARCH ETHICS—THE REGULATORY CONTEXT
Goal: To explore, understand, and interrogate the institutional and organizational contexts within which research is considered to be ethical.
Overview: Novice researchers need to be aware of the research ethics expectations and requirements of institutions and organizations. This exercise encourages participants to work independently and collectively to uncover the ethical codes, guidelines, and regulations that may bear on their work. It also challenges researchers to give preliminary consideration to the power relations behind those regulations and to the fraught relationship between ethical regulation and ethical conduct.
Activity Type: Following a short introduction, this activity is best used as a take-home assignment followed by a group discussion in which participants report back on and discuss their findings.
Time: About 10 minutes for introduction in Session 1 and 1 hour for group discussion in Session 2 following participant opportunity (perhaps over 7–10 days between meetings) for individual research.
Readings:


  1. Research Ethics chapter from this book, Aspiring Academics.

  2. Optional reading: Israel, M., & I. Hay. 2006. Research Ethics for Social Scientists: Between Ethical Conduct and Regulatory Compliance. London: Sage (especially Chapter 4).


Procedure:
Session 1

  1. Lead brief preliminary discussion on Aspiring Academics research ethics chapter focusing on the need to be aware of and understand the broad institutional and organizational contexts within which research ethics are considered.


  2. Ask participants to complete the following tasks before the next group meeting:
    a) Read Israel and Hay (2006, especially 41–45).
    b) Collate information about the proposal submission requirements of the appropriate Institutional Review Board (IRB) or in Canada, the Research Ethics Board (REB) that will deal with any specific research application they might submit. Lists of registered boards can be found for the United States at the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Human Research Protection (OHRP) IRB Guidebook web site and, for Canada, at the Canadian Association of Research Ethics Boards.
    c) Search for those professional ethical codes or guidelines that are most relevant to their specific research and disciplinary interests (e.g., AAG, URISA). Many ethical codes can be found through the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Codes of Ethics online archive.
    d) Prepare answers to the following questions:
    i) Do the submission requirements, codes and guidelines help you understand what constitutes ethical conduct in research? If so, how? If not, why not?
    ii) On which guidelines are you expected to place greatest weight? Why? Does this reflect the moral authority of the guidance or is the mandate drawn from other sources (e.g., economic power, legislative authority, biomedical expertise)?
    iii) Does compliance with institutional and organizational guidelines and requirements lead to more ethical research? How? Does it cause any problems?


Session 2


  1. Ask participants to identify the full range of codes and guidelines they uncovered and their source (e.g., URL). Record these on a whiteboard, overhead transparency, or computer as a shared record.
  2. Have participants form into groups of three, and spend 15–20 minutes explaining to one another their answers to Question d (i, ii, and iii).


  3. Reconvene and invite comments about the answers from the entire class, taking account of the full list of codes and guidelines. This might take 20–25 minutes. If required, some useful prompts for additional discussion and closing might include:
    a) Why is there an abundance of ethical guidelines?
    b) How, as geographers, sometimes working in cross-disciplinary and cross-national areas, can we best negotiate this terrain?


Extension
This Activity can be extended by asking participants to apply the institutional and organizational codes to one or more Case Studies set out in the next Activity, “A Case for Ethics.” This may reveal both the value and limitation of basing our ethical decision making on formal codes.

aCTIVITY 12.2: A case for ethics
Goal: This exercise is intended to help encourage ethically critical practice among researchers. It uses a case-based learning approach to stimulate participants’ moral imaginations, help early and experienced researchers recognize ethical issues, develop analytical skills, foster a sense of personal responsibility for decision making, and offer an opportunity to engage with the values of pluralism while promoting respect for the points of view of other people (Hay and Foley 1998; Hay and Israel 2005).

Overview: To support its goals, the core of this practical activity is an extensive set of real practical dilemmas intended to form the basis of individual and collective consideration about ethical decision making. The cases are preceded by instructions for teachers/facilitators planning to use these resources. The approach adopted here follows advice set out elsewhere in Hay and Foley (1996) and Hay and Israel (2005). Many of these materials have been brought together from our publications elsewhere (Hay 1998a, 1998b, 2003; Hay and Foley 1996; Hay and Israel 2006) and, where appropriate, modified to create a coherent set of resources for an American audience of graduate students and early career faculty in geography and related disciplines. The final section challenges readers to identify new cases and develop their own responses.

Activity Type: Ideally this activity should be completed as a discussion with small groups enrolled in a seminar or workshop, or even with an informal gathering of peers or colleagues. A longer, more thorough implementation is suited to a graduate seminar where the activity can be divided between different meeting times, with opportunity in between for participants to prepare thoughtful reflections on selected cases.
Time: A minimum of 1 hour. The exercise is better allocated 2–3 hours in two sessions separated by 7–10 days so participants can develop detailed responses to selected cases.
Readings:


  1. Research Ethics chapter from this book, Aspiring Academics.

  2. Local, relevant Institutional Review Board (IRB) or Research Ethics Board (REB) regulations.

  3. Requirements of relevant professional codes (e.g., Association of American Geographers’ Statement on Professional Ethics 1998).

Participants may also find the following volume very helpful:


Israel, M., & I. Hay. 2006. Research Ethics for Social Scientists. Between Ethical Conduct and Regulatory Compliance. London: Sage.
Procedure:
1. Establishing the Exercise

Following introductory reading and perhaps group discussion of material exploring ethics and ethical theory (for example, Israel and Hay 2006, especially Chapter Two), distribute the attached handout of cases to the participants and organize the participants in small groups (perhaps three to four individuals per group). The cases are based on real dilemmas encountered by researchers in geography and related disciplines. Each dilemma has associated with it a set of key words that you can use to identify cases addressing specific ethical issues (Table 1). They are not intended to be definitive or prescriptive.

Table 1: Potential Ethical Issues Raised in Cases


Issue

Case Number

Authorship

1, 3, 16

Confidentiality

2, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 19, 20, 21

Conflicts of interest

2, 4, 9, 10, 12, 17, 19

Fabrication and falsification

2, 4, 8, 17, 23

Harm and good

2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23

Informed consent

6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 20, 21, 22

Relationships

1, 3, 9, 10, 14, 19

To facilitate discussion of the cases, refer to attached reference sheet “Discussion Guide to Cases”. Note that the Discussion Guide should not be distributed to the groups -- it should only be used as an aid to prompt discussion. As Step Two explains, this approach is deliberate.


2. Identifying Ethical Problems

Participants should review the cases to decide what ethical problems exist in each case, if any exist at all. This can be achieved individually, but preferably through a process of discussion and negotiation in groups. Problem identification is very important for, as Burns (1995, 37) notes, “much unethical and deeply destructive behavior results from a failure to see the moral significance of human situations.” Although it may be difficult, participants should, at this stage, avoid adopting any specific position. Instead, they should simply be trying to identify the nature of the ethical problems. If a number of small groups are discussing a case simultaneously, you might conclude Step Two by asking representatives from each group to tell the rest of the group about the ethical problem(s) they have identified within the case. These can be reviewed by the group as a whole, summarized, and re-presented as a smaller number of issues for general discussion in the next phase of the exercise.

3. Formulating Individual Positions
Following the guidance set out in the chapter “Private People, Secret Places: Ethical Research in Practice,” each participant should now formulate their own position on the issue which has been identified by the group. It is helpful to have some time—in-class or at home—to prepare an opinion independently and in writing. This allows time for thoughtful reflection and more productive and considered group discussion in the next stages of the exercise (Hastings Center 1979, 70). Participants should include in their deliberations the requirements of their professional code (see Association of American Geographers 1998), any institution-specific requirements (e.g., Institutional Review Board), and any local or national legal restrictions that may apply.
4. Probing Initial Positions

Participants’ independently prepared notes on the ethical scenario(s) can now form the basis of small group in-class discussions and Socratic dialogue with the facilitator and all other participants. The Socratic Method is most commonly associated with legal education and typically involves a teacher-facilitator asking students tough questions to reveal the underlying principles of law embedded in the case under scrutiny (Carter and Unklesbay 1989, 528). The intention is not to prompt participants to a single, “correct” answer. In this ethics practical exercise, the facilitator and participants should confront each speaker with questions about their ethical position and the reasons for the position drawing when appropriate from professional and other context-specific (e.g., Institutional Review Board) guidelines. All participants should be probing one another’s (and their own) responses thoughtfully by, for example, questioning relevance and consistency. The central purpose of Socratic questioning is to provoke thought and to draw out the clearest, most defensible positions from participants. It is not intended to be an overzealous and damaging scrutiny of any single person’s perspective. Nevertheless, the Socratic Method can feel confrontational and threatening, especially to those students from cultural or linguistic groups who feel less comfortable with oral communication than others, do not come from backgrounds where argument is used commonly as a means of clarifying thought, or those who feel especially committed to a particular position. In such situations, participants could be formed into groups:



  • by inviting individuals to identify their position on a continuum and then work with like-minded individuals. The group could discuss their point of view while the rest of the class looks on (a “fishbowl” exercise);

  • asked to formulate a position and to argue that position collectively with another small group;

  • and assigned a position to argue, irrespective of their individual beliefs about the case. (Other useful approaches are set out in Pimple [2002].)

The length of time spent on a case will depend on matters such as the complexity of issues involved and student perceptiveness. Care needs to be taken to ensure students have the opportunity to reflect on their views, acquire additional information, and muster the courage to comment where they might before have been timid. Upon hearing the carefully reasoned views of a colleague, one’s own ethical position may alter.


5. Refining Positions
This stage is intended to help participants clarify, refine, and qualify their views. Participants might rewrite their original opinion in the light of the group’s comments. Such written work should expand upon, capitalize on, and confirm lessons learned through discussions with other students. As such, it should support “deep learning,” characterized by Bradbeer (1996, 12) as that process in which “the student engages in an active search for meaning and attempts to relate it to prior learning and experience and, in so doing, transforms the knowledge gained.”

6. Testing Positions

Finally, Step Six offers additional testing of the participants’ arguments by checking to see if they can stand up to higher level scrutiny. This may be achieved through formal written or oral assessment. Alternatively, if time is available, engagement with the thoughtful ethical views of a small group of people can be encouraged through, for example, the use of writing groups (Hay and Delaney 1994).

7. Extension
This Activity can be extended by asking participants to generate further examples of ethical challenges in research, as follows:


  1. Using the Chronicle of Higher Education web site, search for examples of dilemmas in research ethics in fields relevant to your interests using some of the key words in Section 3 (and Table 1) of these resources. If you wish to look into international sources, consider The Times Higher Education Supplement, or The Australian Higher Education Supplement.

  2. Identify how the researcher involved responded to the dilemma. This might involve a further search for details of the researcher on Chronicle in Higher Education archives, the researcher’s own web site, as well as relevant full-text databases.

  3. Where appropriate, work through the process set out in the accompanying chapter, Private People, Secret Places, to develop your own response to each dilemma and compare it with decisions made by the researcher and/or some of your colleagues.

  4. Teachers/facilitators might consider placing these new cases online, perhaps using a wiki, to enable asynchronous, collaborative construction of additional learning-and-teaching resources.


References

Associated Press Newswires. 2004. Students Falsified Survey Judge Cited in Moving Scott Peterson's Murder Trial, 10 January.

Association of American Geographers. 1998. Statement on Professional Ethics. Available at http://www.aag.org/Publications/EthicsStatement.html (9 July 2007).

Bradbeer, J. 1996. Problem-based Learning and Fieldwork: A Better Method of Preparation. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 20 (1): 11–18.

Burns, R.P. 1995. Teaching the Basic Ethics Class through Simulation: The Northwestern Program in Advocacy and Professionalism. Law and Contemporary Problems 58 (3 and 4): 37–50.

Carter, K., and R. Unklesbay. 1989. Cases in Teaching and Law. Journal of Curriculum Studies 21 (6): 527–536.

Dulaney, W.L. 2005. A Brief History of “Outlaw” Motorcycle Clubs. International Journal of Motorcycle Studies 1 (3). http://ijms.nova.edu/November2005/IJMS_Artcl.Dulaney.html (last accessed 10 July 2007).

Harrell-Bond, B. 1976. Studying Elites: Some Special Problems. In Ethics and Anthropology: Dilemmas in Fieldwork, eds. M.A. Rynkiewich and J.P. Spradley, 110–122. New York: John Wiley.

Hastings Center (Institute of Society, Ethics, and the Life Sciences) 1979. The Teaching of Ethics in Higher Education. Hastings-on-Hudson, NY: Hastings Center.

Hay, I. 2003. Ethical Practice in Geographical Research. In Key Methods in Geography, eds. G. Valentine and N. Clifford, 37–53. London: Sage.

Hay, I. 1998a. From Code to Conduct. Professional Ethics in New Zealand Geography. New Zealand Geographer 54 (2): 21–27.

Hay, I. 1998b. Making Moral Imaginations. Research Ethics, Pedagogy, and Professional Human Geography. Ethics, Place, and Environment 1 (1): 55–76.

Hay, I., and E. Delaney. 1994. Who Teaches, Learns: Writing Groups in Geographical Education. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 18 (3): 217–234.

Hay, I., and P. Foley. 1998. Ethics, Geography, and Responsible Citizenship. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 22 (2): 169–183.

Hay, I., and M. Israel. 2005. A Case for Ethics (not Conformity). In “Professing”Humanist Sociology, eds. G.A. Goodwin and M.D. Schwartz, M.D, 26–31. (5th edition). Washington D.C.: American Sociological Association.

International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. 2006. Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writing and Editing for Biomedical Publication. http://www.icmje.org (last accessed 9 July 2007).

Israel, M., and I. Hay. 2006. Research Ethics for Social Scientists: Between Ethical Conduct and Regulatory Compliance. London: Sage.

Marcuse, P. 1985. Professional Ethics and Beyond: Values in Planning. In Ethics in Planning, ed. M. Wachs, 3–24. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Urban Policy Research, Rutgers University.

Mitchell, B., and D. Draper. 1982. Relevance and Ethics in Geography. London: Longman.

Pimple, K.D. 2002. Using Small Group Assignments in Teaching Research Ethics. http://poynter.indiana.edu/tre/kdp-groups.pdf (last accessed 23 August 2006).

Stuart, B.L., AG.J. Rhodin, L.L. Grismer, and T. Hansel. 2006. Scientific Description Can Imperil Species. Science 312: 1137.

Symanski, R. 1974. Prostitution in Nevada. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 64: 357–377.

Tolich, M. 2002. An Ethical Iceberg: Do Connected Persons’ Confidentiality Warrant Vulnerable Person Status? Paper presented to the joint IIPE/AAPAE Conference, Brisbane, Australia, 4 October. http://www.iipe.org/conference 2002/papers/Tolich.pdf.


Discussion guide to cases (for facilitator only)
Case Number 1: Whose Turn Is It?
To prompt discussion:


  1. Is it appropriate for Feldspar to include Volatiles in the list of authors without Hornblende’s willing agreement? Why?




  1. Is it reasonable for Feldspar and Volatiles to attribute authorial credit to one another irrespective of their contributions to papers? Explain your answers.



In considering these questions it may be useful to consult the Association of American Geographers’ (1998) Statement on Professional Ethics for some insights. Also very useful is the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ (2006) Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writing and Editing for Biomedical Publication, which set out some clear ideas on authorship and contributorship.
Keywords: Authorship; Relationships
Case Number 2: The “Right” Projections

To prompt discussion:





  1. Who “owns” the research data?




  1. Should the mayor’s social justice ambitions outweigh the consultants’ professional integrity?




  1. Should the consultants have agreed to “reconsider” their population estimates?




  1. Was it appropriate for the consultants to keep quiet about the actions of the mayor and her staffer? Why?

Keywords: Confidentiality; Conflicts of Interest; Fabrication and Falsification; Harm and Good

Case Number 3: Whistle Blowing
To prompt discussion:


  1. Should Descartes keep quiet? Explain your position.




  1. Was it appropriate for Descartes to discuss the situation with her supervisor, especially if it was possible she would not make a claim of plagiarism against the other student?




  1. What should Descartes’ supervisor do now that she knows of the case, too? How do you weigh up any responsibility to expose plagiarism with Descartes’ rights to have her wishes respected?


Keywords: Authorship; Relationships
Case Number 4: Out of the Blue
To prompt discussion:


  1. What sort of financial arrangements should academics have with corporations?




  1. Should researchers have to disclose funding arrangements and corporate affiliations to other prospective funders; to publication outlets; to conference audiences . . . ?




  1. What degree of control should funding agencies have over research methodology, data interpretation, publication (and its timing) . . . ?


Keywords: Conflicts of Interest; Fabrication and Falsification; Harm and Good
Case Number 5: Grass?

To prompt discussion:





  1. What should the researcher do with the “nickel bag” of marijuana? What might be the research-related consequences of that action?



  1. What should the researcher do about the behavior of the clerk, the research “subject,” and the passing police officers? In your state, what legal responsibilities would the researcher have?



Keywords: Confidentiality; Harm and Good
Case Number 6: Who’s For a Beer?
To prompt discussion:


  1. What should Adiabatic do? Should he refuse to buy the beer and forget about the matter? Should he buy beer to gain the group’s confidence? Or should he report the experience to the police? Why? How would you feel if the group offered to sell him smuggled drugs? What is the difference?


Keywords: Confidentiality; Harm and Good; Informed Consent

Case Number 7: Geckos for Sale
To prompt discussion:


  1. As Stuart et al. (2006, 1137) point out, “Withholding locality information from new species descriptions might hamper profiteers, but it also hampers science and conservation.” Should scientists withhold from their publications and public statements information about new species locations?

  2. How does your response to this case compare with that to Case Number 8?


Keywords: Harm and Good
Case Number 8: Work and Stigmatized Places
To prompt discussion:


  1. Is it appropriate for the researcher to keep the address strategy information secret? What might be the consequences of that behavior, including for those unemployed people who do not know of and do not engage in the deception?




  1. How does your response to this case compare with that to Case Number 7?


Keywords: Confidentiality; Fabrication and Falsification; Harm and Good; Informed Consent

Case Number 9: The Power of Maps

To prompt discussion:


  1. Are researchers responsible for the uses to which their data and findings are put? What responsibilities do researchers have to manage the use of their research results?




  1. How can Tropic evaluate the relative harms and benefits of disclosing the research results?




  1. Does Tropic owe anything to the research organization or his discipline?


Keywords: Conflicts of Interest; Harm and Good; Relationships
Case Number 10: Government Papers
To prompt discussion:


  1. Was it right for Arroyo to hold back papers for his own benefit and without his employer’s consent? Why?




  1. Is it appropriate for Arroyo to use the secretly acquired documents in his thesis? Is there a case for arguing that the potential public good of Arroyo’s findings outweighs any bureaucratic and legal issues about using the data without consent? In short, do the ends justify the means?


Keywords: Confidentiality; Conflicts of Interest; Harm and Good; Informed Consent; Relationships
Case Number 11: Dam Consents
To prompt discussion:


  1. Was the no-consent approach the right approach? Did the time saving of a year justify Harmattan’s disregard for farmers’ private property “rights”? Should Harmattan have examined only those dams he could see from the road and subsequently sought permission to visit the remainder which he could not see? Justify your opinion. You may find it useful to compare your views on this case with those you reach in Case 20: Hot on Their Heels.


  1. Was it appropriate of Harmattan’s committee chair to agree to the no-consent approach?



Keywords: Harm and Good; Informed Consent
Case Number 12: “They Did That Last Week”
To prompt discussion:


  1. It would appear from the circumstances and from the very high response rate that students were not free to refuse to participate in the study. Is it ethical for Ria to use results that have been acquired without free and informed consent. Why?




  1. Given that Ria is working under tight and expensive time constraints for her master’s degree, what should she do about her thesis?




  1. Would your answer to Question 1 change if the survey had been administered to adults? What if it dealt with some sensitive issue such as sexual assault or if the results had been acquired, also without consent, through the use of physical force (e.g., World War II experiments on prisoners of war)?


Keywords: Confidentiality; Conflicts of Interest; Informed Consent
Case Number 13: Abused Wives
To prompt discussion:


  1. Was it appropriate for Gibber to work at the refuge when she was motivated primarily by her desire to gather research information? Discuss.




  1. Was it appropriate for Gibber to conduct her research covertly? How would your answers compare if Gibber’s work had involved participant observation of an outlaw motorcycle gang? (See for example the work of William L. Dulaney [2005].)


Keywords: Harm and Good; Informed Consent

Case Number 14: My Best Friend?

To prompt discussion:


  1. Is it ethical for the researcher to manipulate a personal relationship for the purposes of acquiring information? Compare your thoughts with the attitudes you might have to “networking” as part of a search for employment.




  1. Is the researcher being deceitful? Should she use information she is privileged to receive in this way in her research project?


Keywords: Informed Consent; Relationships
Case Number 15: Situation Vacant
To prompt discussion:


  1. The student knew that to tell the person who was about to become unemployed of the vacancy would violate the promised confidence; it might also mean that each party would know why the other had been interviewed; and it would reveal the promise of confidentiality to be rather thin. What should the student do? Justify your opinion.




  1. Does your response to Question 1 depend on the subject matter of the research interviews (e.g., does it make a difference if the interviews were with mercenaries, people involved in the sex industry, or with health care workers)?


Keywords: Confidentiality; Harm and Good
Case Number 16: Fairly Recognized?
To prompt discussion:


  1. Comment on the appropriateness of representation of authorship in this case. It may be very helpful to compare your answer with the influential advice set out in the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ (2006) Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writing and Editing for Biomedical Publication.

Keywords: Authorship
Case Number 17: Over a Port or Two
To prompt discussion:


  1. Given that a truthful report may mean that several engineers lose their jobs, the President will be publicly embarrassed, international aid may not be forthcoming, and the economic stimulus that construction of a new port could bring may be jeopardized, what should the consultant do? Justify your answer.




  1. Now consider the significance of your answer to Question 1 for the future of geography if all researchers were to behave in the ways you counsel.


Keywords: Conflicts of Interest; Fabrication and Falsification; Harm and Good
Case Number 18: Shops in Space
To prompt discussion:


  1. Should Moraine accept the consulting position? If he does not, someone else is likely to be approached and the supermarket’s development plans will proceed anyway.




  1. If he does take the position, is it appropriate for Moraine to take account of the social-spatial consequences of location decisions in his research even if it means sacrificing economic returns to the supermarket chain’s shareholders?


Keywords: Harm and Good
Case Number 19: A Little Bit of Espionage?
To prompt discussion:


  1. Should Barchan accede to the embassy request? Explain.




  1. How would you feel about this situation if Barchan was a foreign scholar visiting your home country?


  1. Would the situation be different if Barchan had already gathered the information as a part of her research and if disclosure to embassy officials did not require her to violate any explicit promises of confidentiality made to research participants? Why?



Keywords: Confidentiality; Conflicts of Interest; Harm and Good; Relationships


Case Number 20: Hot on Their Heels
To prompt discussion:


  1. Is it ethical for the researchers to “track” people in public places without those people’s knowledge or permission? Would your view be different if this occurred in a library, an indoor shopping mall, or a university plaza?




  1. What should the researchers do if a single pedestrian notices their activities, objects to being included as a part of the observational exercise, and asks that the exercise cease?




  1. Are the researchers obliged to do anything if they see one of their “subjects” engage in some illegal activity such as selling marijuana, shoplifting, jaywalking, or assaulting someone?


Keywords: Confidentiality; Harm and Good; Informed Consent
Case Number 21: A Small World?

To prompt discussion:





  1. What should Harrell-Bond do? What might be the consequences of her actions?




  1. Would your opinion about Harrell-Bond’s best response be different—as she suggests hers was—if the research had been conducted “among a remote and nonliterate group” (Harrell-Bond 1976, 120)?



  1. If Harrell-Bond was to respond to her predicament by not making public the results of her research, might she reasonably be accused of being unethical for wasting her own time and that of her respondents; squandering research resources; and consequently bringing research into disrepute?



Keywords: Confidentiality; Harm and Good; Informed Consent


Case Number 22: Can I Buy You a Drink . . . ?
To prompt discussion:


  1. Symanski presumably believed the prostitutes would not participate in his study if he explained his reasons for wanting to talk with them (Mitchell and Draper 1983, 13). Given this, was Symanski’s artifice appropriate? Why? Would your opinion differ if the interviewees were employed in some other income-earning activity?




  1. Rather than just buying them drinks, should Symanski have paid the prostitutes for their time at the same rate they were paid by clients for sexual services?


Keywords: Informed Consent
Case Number 23: Students Faked Survey
To prompt discussion:


  1. Depending on the size of the study and the scale of faked input, the study may have legitimately concluded that Scott Peterson could not get a fair trial in Stanislaus County. If so, what’s the problem?


Keywords: Fabrication and Falsification; Harm and Good

Aspiring Academics

Chapter 12 - Ethical Research in Practice

Cases for Discussion (Handout for Participants)
Following are real cases of ethical dilemmas/problems confronted by geographers and people working in related disciplines. In some cases, names and other details have been changed to protect identity. The cases deal with research situations and with some professional relationships. They give some insights to the range of difficulties researchers may confront in their day-to-day practice.

Case Number 1: Whose Turn Is It?

Hornblende is a graduate student with an interest in geomorphology. He is taken to a field site by Professor Volatiles who believes that Hornblende might think the area was worth researching for his thesis. Another professor, Feldspar, from a different university, meets Hornblende and Volatiles at the site. All three inspect the area. Hornblende decides he is not interested in the area for his thesis, but nevertheless he works with Volatiles to produce a conference poster on the area. Volatiles includes Feldspar’s name as one of the authors on the poster because the two professors almost always coauthored work, simply switching senior author (i.e., first author) from paper to paper. Hornblende feels aggrieved because it seems to him that, in this case, Feldspar had contributed very little, if anything to the project.
Case Number 2: The “Right” Projections
In Oldport, U.S.A., the mayor commissioned a firm of planning consultants to develop a comprehensive twenty-year strategy for urban renewal and for the provision of housing, schools, and social service facilities. The planning consultants’ preliminary report projected moderate population growth but pointed to the likelihood of a substantial change in racial composition. It was estimated that minority groups would make up more than half of the city’s population within twelve years. The planners also predicted that there would be an African-American population majority in the public schools within five years.
The mayor reacted very strongly to the preliminary report. She felt if the findings were released, they could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Her hopes of preserving an ethnically integrated school system; maintaining stable, mixed neighborhoods; and developing an ethnically heterogeneous city could be dashed.

The mayor asked the planners to reconsider their population estimates. They agreed to use the lower range of their projections. These suggested minority dominance in the public schools after eight years and a majority in the city in sixteen. The mayor was not happy. She told the planners to change the figures or to leave them out of the report. The planning consultants refused, arguing they had bent their interpretation of fact as far as they could. They also thought that without a discussion of those population projections, the rest of the report would be unconvincing.

In private, the mayor criticized the planning consultants for their professional arrogance. She went on to ask a member of her own staff to rewrite the report without the projections and ordered the consultants not to make public their findings under any circumstances. The mayoral staffer initially refused to write the report, but eventually agreed. The consultants kept quiet about the results, completed the formal requirements of their contract, and left. After this experience, the mayor never used professional planning consultants again. (This example is drawn from Marcuse [1985, 5] and was presented earlier in Hay and Foley [1998]).
Case Number 3: Whistle Blowing
In the course of her own Ph.D. research in Canada, Descartes uncovers a thesis proposal submitted by a degree candidate at another university in another country. A third of that proposal has been taken without any attribution from Descartes’ own work. She is hurt and angered by the plagiarism and yet when urged by her supervisor to be a “whistle blower” and write to the department in question, she refuses (Kates 1994, 2). (This case was presented earlier in Hay [1998a]).
Case Number 4: Out of the Blue

As a young university graduate, Coral found herself working for a scientific research organization studying pollution damage to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The organization had a problem common to much scientific research—how to get enough funding to carry on the work. All their worries appeared to be solved when quite out of the blue one of the large multinational corporations operating in the country offered significant ongoing financial support. There was a hitch, however. The company had recently suffered adverse publicity through an article claiming they were themselves responsible for some of the pollution. In return for the financial support, they not only wanted the research company to refute these claims but also to study a section of the reef where there were no pollution problems.

Case Number 5: Grass?
Ethnographer David Fetterman was conducting field research in a U.S. inner-city area for a contract research corporation by which he was employed. One of the research “subjects,” known by Fetterman to have an extensive knowledge of illegal drug dealing in the local area, asked Fetterman out for something to eat. In the course of that interaction, the researcher was confronted with a number of dilemmas. Fetterman (1983, 216–7) describes the situation:
We walked down the main street of the inner city for a few blocks until he pointed to a health food store. . . . We entered the establishment and my friend asked the clerk to give me a granola [muesli] bar. I said thanks and reached for the bar. The patron handed it to me with a smile and a small envelope underneath it. I looked down at a ‘nickel’ bag of marijuana. . . . My [feeling of] discomfort was compounded by two policemen walking by viewing the exchange. The policemen saw the transaction, smiled and continued walking. When I asked my friend why they didn’t bust us, he said, ‘they don’t need the money right now.’ I asked him to clarify his response and he explained:

They only bust you if they need the money. They get paid off regular. But if they’re hurting for money, then well, that’s another different story. They’ll come right in and bust ya, take money out of the cash register and take your dope too. If they’re on the run and gotta show that they mean business then they’ll bust your ass. Otherwise they just look the other way” (from Hay and Foley [1998b]).


Case Number 6: Who’s For a Beer?

As part of a research project a British geographer joins a residents’ association to gain an insight into how residents respond to their public sector rental accommodation and its environs. After attending a few meetings of the association, Dr. Adiabatic is offered some half-price cans of beer. It is evident from the comments made at the time of the offer that members of the group had imported the beer illegally for sale to local residents.

Case Number 7: Geckos for Sale
Scientists have found that their publication of new plant and animal species descriptions in scientific journals are effectively advertising those species for commercial exploitation (Stuart et al. 2006, 1137). For instance, following Grismer’s 1999 publication in the Journal of Herpetology of details of a gecko (Goniurosaurus luii) found in southeastern China, individual animals were not only reaching prices of $1500–2000 on the international pet trade but the species had been completely eliminated from its home range.
Case Number 8: Work and Stigmatized Places
A geographer conducting work on job-seeking in a stigmatized suburb of a major U.S. city finds many people looking for work believe their scarce opportunities for employment to be adversely influenced by their address. That is, they believe they are discriminated against by prospective employers on the basis of their supposedly “undesirable” home address. In response to this problem, job seekers are found to have adopted a number of coping strategies, such as furnishing the more up-market address of a friend or relative in job applications, using a post office box number, or adding “Heights” or “Hill” to their home suburb’s name. In the public arena (e.g., classes, conferences, publications, media coverage), the researcher chooses to downplay the extent of these practices, for fear of alerting business and employer groups to marginalized job seekers’ successful strategies for coping with one form of discrimination.
Case Number 9: The Power of Maps

Dr. Tropic has recently commenced work as a post-doctoral fellow with a research organization applying GIS (Geographical Information Systems) to illustrate and resolve significant social problems. This position could allow someone to lay the foundations of a noteworthy academic career. However, this depends on producing good results and publishing in reputable journals. Tropic decides to work on environmental carcinogens (cancer-producing substances) in a major metropolitan area. He spends about two months of his two-year fellowship conducting background research to assess the need for, and utility of, the work. After this early research, Tropic resolves to use GIS to produce maps that will illustrate clearly those areas in which high levels of carcinogenic materials are likely to be found. At a meeting of interested parties to discuss the proposed research, one of the participants makes the observation that, if broadcast, the results of the study may cause considerable public alarm. For example, there may be widespread individual and institutional concern about public health and welfare that may be fueled by the media; property values in areas with high levels of carcinogenic material may be adversely affected; past and present producers of carcinogenic pollutants may be exposed to liability suits; and local government authorities might react poorly to claims that there are toxic materials in their areas. Tropic is cautioned against proceeding by senior managers and researchers in the organization (from Hay [2003]).

Case Number 10: Government Papers
A government space saving and paper recycling scheme requires that many government documents of varying degrees of sensitivity be routinely destroyed. One employee, Arroyo, who is also a Ph.D. student, secretly holds back from this process a line of papers that might be relevant to his academic research. Singly, the documents have little more than intrinsic value but when they are aggregated they provide a large body of evidence to support Arroyo’s current Ph.D. research thesis that public land-use planning and management is often driven by political expediency and commercial imperatives.
Case Number 11: Dam Consents

Mr. Harmattan was conducting a geomorphological project in rural Idaho for his Ph.D. research. Due to the unusually low water levels in roadside dams/ponds in the area at the time, he was able to hasten and make easier some of his work by examining soil profiles in dams/ponds. Harmattan considered getting written approval from the relevant landowners before checking the dams/ponds. However, the pre-fieldwork tasks of identifying the dams/ponds, checking land records to identify the owners, and then contacting the owners to ask their permission were likely to have extended his project an extra year. The tasks would cause some other problems with his work, too. Overall, it would be quicker and easier to conduct the observations without landowner consent. Harmattan discussed the situation with the chair of his Ph.D. committee. They decided that Harmattan should adopt a “common sense,” no-consent approach, as long as there were no complaints or adverse reactions from residents or landowners. If there were, all fieldwork was to cease and the situation was to be reviewed. Harmattan proceeded with the project. If dams/ponds were within 10–12 feet of boundary fences, he examined them through the fence. He sometimes entered properties to examine dams/ponds. He purposely did not examine any dams/ponds within sight of houses. If he saw someone working in the field, he asked permission to examine the dam/pond. That permission was always granted.
Case Number 12: “They Did That Last Week”
Ria, a master’s student, carefully prepares a questionnaire survey for distribution to two groups of sixteen-year-old students in “home groups” at two local high schools. The survey is central to the comparative work Ria is conducting as part of her thesis. In compliance with her state government’s requirements, Ria secures permission from the students’ parents to conduct the survey. She also gets ethics clearance for her work from the university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB requires her to include a cover letter to students which states that their participation in the study is voluntary and that no one is obliged to answer any of the questions asked. A few weeks before she intends to administer the questionnaire, Ria leaves near-final drafts of it with the students’ teachers for comment. The draft copy of the questionnaire does not include the cover letter. It is Ria’s intention to revise the questionnaire in light of each teacher’s comments and then return to the schools to administer the questionnaire during “home group” meeting times. About a week after she leaves the survey forms with the teachers, Ria calls them to find out if they have had an opportunity to comment on the questionnaire. The first teacher has just returned the questionnaire—with no amendments—by post. However, Ria finds the second teacher had already made multiple copies of the forms and had administered the questionnaire to her student “home group.” He asks Ria to come along to collect the completed forms. Ria scuttles off to the school immediately. She finds the questionnaires had been completed fully by every student present in the home group. Only one student from the class of 30 had been absent so the response rate was 97%—a remarkably high rate. Ria feels she cannot ask the teacher to readminister the survey because he has already indicated several times that he is tired of his requests for assistance and access to the class (from Hay [2003]).

Case Number 13: Abused Wives
An Australian social geographer, Dr. Gibber, is conducting research into the ways physically abused wives adjust to life after they have fled their marital home. As part of her work she becomes a volunteer worker in an inner city women’s refuge. Although her input is valuable to the refuge, Dr. Gibber is more interested in gathering research information than she is in providing succor and sustenance. No one at the refuge is aware of her real purpose for being there. Gibber deliberately becomes friendly with those people who might offer information useful in the research and some of the women in the refuge grow to like her. Once the research work is completed, Gibber leaves the refuge and leaves no information as to her location. No one at the refuge ever hears from her again. No one is ever told of her real reason for volunteering to work in the refuge. No one in the refuge is ever likely to see the products of Dr. Gibber’s work.
Case Number 14: My Best Friend?
In the course of a lengthy research project, a geographer working overseas with an indigenous group forms a friendship with one person who has privileged access to information about that society. Seeing the friendship as an opportunity to gain access to information that might not otherwise be accessible to her, the researcher chooses to cultivate the relationship and is eventually provided with valuable information no other visitor has seen (from Hay [1998b]).
Case Number 15: Situation Vacant

In the course of Ph.D. research, an interviewee tells the research student of a job vacancy in the company he manages. This occurs shortly after the student had interviewed someone else who expected to be retrenched very soon from a job similar to that which is vacant. In an introductory letter provided to all respondents before interviews, the Ph.D. student had stated quite clearly they would remain anonymous and all information they disclosed would be confidential.

Case Number 16: Fairly Recognized?
A major multi-author geological report is published by a national geological survey. Authorship of specific chapters is not indicated anywhere in the publication. Most of the fifteen chapters were written by Goode and Mercator. Miller was the “editor” who brought the volume together and was heavily involved with production details (e.g., communicating with the printer and drafting personnel). Despite these individual contributions, authorship on the title page of the report is listed as Lambert, Miller, Goode, Mercator, and Peters. The publication is commonly referred to as “Lambert and others.” Lambert was the principal geologist in the section of the state geological survey that produced the volume. He had written one chapter of the book.
Case Number 17: Over a Port or Two
An economic geographer is conducting a study for a proposed port development in a small island state. If completed, the port will be the second one in the country. The geographer is part of a consortium including the group of civil engineers who hope a favorable report will allow them to get the contract to build the new port. Indeed the engineers need the contract if that part of their operation is not to be severely “downsized.” The geographer is advising on the economic viability and value of the development. The port will undoubtedly be built since the President promised the town the development and made it clear that international money was available. But the geographer finds there is no economic rationale for the port. The existing port could be upgraded at a fraction of the cost, and the new port is not really in the best location given the existing transport network (from Hay [1998b]).

Case Number 18: Shops in Space

Dr. Moraine is a retail geographer who has just been asked to advise a major supermarket chain about possible locations and sites for town edge superstores. The construction of these supermarkets is more or less inevitable. The simple question is, Where should they be located? One almost inevitable consequence of the chain’s policy is blight in city outskirts where property values close to the proposed sites would fall. Additionally, the policy is likely to lead to the disappearance, or reduction in number, of inner suburban shops which, in turn, are likely to leave the predominantly poor and the elderly people in those areas with only high price “convenience stores” (from Hay [1998b]).
Case Number 19: A Little Bit of Espionage?
Professor Barchan is in a foreign country on a research visit sponsored by the host nation and the U.S. government. At an appointment with U.S. Embassy officials, Professor Barchan is asked to look for special information on some local activities the United States wishes to stop. Embassy officials point out to Barchan that her position as an academic researcher will allow her to move freely all over the country, whereas embassy personnel are under constant surveillance. Although no one mentions it, Barchan is aware this intelligence gathering exercise could be life-threatening. To refuse will mark her as uncooperative in the eyes of the U.S. officials. Barchan also relies on the embassy and its various extensions for information and assistance she needs for her work. (This case was presented earlier in Hay [1998b].)
Case Number 20: Hot on Their Heels

To describe patterns of pedestrians’ use of inner city Seattle, a group of researchers employ a technique called “tracking,” in which they follow a sample of pedestrians in the downtown area and record their movements and activities. The study involves observation of behavior in public places and the study is concerned with aggregate rather than individual patterns of behavior (Grey et al., in Mitchell and Draper 1983, 13) (from Hay [1998b]).

Case Number 21: A Small World?
For several years in the late 1960s, Barbara Harrell-Bond conducted fieldwork in Sierra Leone. Her work focused on the experiences of those people with professional qualifications who were working in the country. There were 754 people so qualified. While she realized these people were often closely connected through kinship and that most knew one another, it was not until very late in her research that she came to understand just how much they knew of each other’s personal affairs. In the first report outlining her research findings, Harrell-Bond found some readers could identify almost everyone discussed in the report and, moreover, that they could provide other details about those people such as their political affiliations, the spouse’s ethnic background, educational qualifications, and other, more intimate, details. This occurred despite Harrell-Bond’s attempts to conceal the identity of the individuals concerned. After careful consideration, Harrell-Bond could see there was no way she could disguise the identity of individuals in her report adequately (from Harrell-Bond [1976]).
Case Number 22: Can I Buy You a Drink . . . ?
In work on geographical aspects of brothel prostitution in Nevada, Richard Symanski apparently did not explain the reason for his research when he talked with prostitutes in brothels. In a footnote to his published work on the topic, he wrote he wanted:
. . . to thank the many prostitutes who unknowingly gave me insights into prostitution in Nevada for little more than the price of a drink. I owe them an apology for deceiving them as to my true intentions and, in some cases, of depriving them of time with a prospective client.” (Symanski 1974, 357)

Case Number 23: Students Faked Survey

In 2004, Scott Peterson was charged with murdering his pregnant wife and unborn son. Prosecutors in California sought the death penalty.


An Associated Press story (Associated Press Newswires 2004), claimed the trial was moved by the judge from Modesto partly as a result of a survey conducted by 65 criminal justice students from California State University, Stanislaus. The survey apparently revealed that jurors without bias were more likely to be found in the San Francisco Bay area or Southern California than in Stanislaus County, the area which includes Modesto. Several students involved in the survey told the local newspaper, The Modesto Bee, that they had faked some of the survey returns because they had found it too difficult to run the survey properly.




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