[Air-l] Great Ethical disasters in Internet Research?

Lachlan Brown philosophers at berlin.com
Thu Jul 11 17:26:04 PDT 2002

.> i can't be the first one to note that ethical flaws (and i'm thinking
> critically about attributing any intentionality here) seem to be
> operationalized methods flaws...any thoughts on where this discussion has
> already taken place?

Why, yes, of course. But criticism by Susan Buchman of Judith  
Kleinfeld's research in MIT's famous gender study clearly delves into 
para-scholarly questions and quickly reveals the limits of both 
scientific methodology and ethical or broader social and cultural 
considerations. The outcome was a sort of pie fight. See below.

I think the point is that any research must be clear on the 
boundaries of its 'meta discourse', which is why the methodology 
of broadly speaking cultural studies, speaking as it does to and from 
broader cultural concerns is such a productive, yea even, incisive one.
 Even where power accumulations appear safe from scrutiny. It takes 
power and its uneven distribution as one of its subjects.

The social compact is maintained through a reflexivity of the 
researcher concerning her or his assumptions and subjectivity (which 
is partly why the study is undertaken in the first place, to know 
oneself in the world) as well as a thoroughgoing analysis of the field 
of study.

External elements, independent agencies, are only admitted where
long established codes of ethics are breached. Society ultimately steps 
in, even as many many executives of IT companies are presently finding
 out, even where society or the idea of society was not factored into 
their equations or projections for an IT revolution.

The crucial thing is the 'meta-discourse' in which methodology resides
or rather the inter-relationship between what we scholars (I use the 
term in a catholic and informal sense here in AIR) consider
appropriate methodology and what the ethical requirement of professional life, as well as society and culture at large demands of us.

Yes, very interresting. I would welcome further thoughs on 
'operationalised methods flaws'

Lachlan Brown

Centre for Cultural Studies
and the Centre for Urban and Community Research,
Goldsmiths College
University of London.


The Flaws in MIT’s Gender Study
In “Twenty Irrelevant Pages,” Susan Buchman critiques my study, “MIT Tarnishes Its Reputation with Junk Gender Science” . 

Buchman asks a fair question: Why does the MIT study “fall below the most elementary standards for scientific evidence”? 

Here is the way a study of gender discrimination at MIT should have been conducted following elementary standards for evidence in the social sciences: 

1. An independent research firm should have been engaged to do the study. 

The chair of the MIT committee evaluating the charge of gender discrimination was Professor Hopkins herself, the chief complainant. Two-thirds of the committee members were other senior women in the School of Science, interested parties who would personally profit from a finding of gender discrimination and, in fact, did profit. 

The senior women at MIT were thus judge and jury of their own complaints. 

2. The independent research firm would have developed a clear conceptualization of discrimination and operationalized that definition with specific measures, e.g. unequal pay, unequal laboratory space, not listened to in meetings, not appointed to prestigious committees, a sense of disrespect. 

3. A comparative study of male and female faculty at MIT would be conducted to see if female faculty differ significantly from male faculty in such resources and feelings. Male faculty may have comparable perceptions of marginalization but lack a socially acceptable label like “gender discrimination” to discuss the problem. 

4. The data would be coded by researchers who have received training in the category system and who have reached at least an 80 percent level of agreement in coding accuracy. Subtle personal experiences (qualitative data) can be coded scientifically, not only quantitative data, when concepts are clear. 

5. The study methods and results would be published for review and critique by the scientific community. If sex differences were found in laboratory space, for example, were differences in seniority taken into account? 

For MIT to argue that “confidentiality” is required on such matters as sex differences in square feet of laboratory feet is just plain absurd. Confidentiality means you do not identify individuals, not that you do not publish tables. 

This is how social science is done. A secret study is how politics is done. 

Judith Kleinfeld 
Professor of Psychology 
University of Alaska Fairbanks 


> a tangent to david and quentin's conversation below: does anyone else notice
> the entanglement of methods flaws and ethical flaws in the body of internet
> research literature they review for their research? i feel like i encounter
> it often in work dealing with sexuality and identity in relation to CMC.
> i can't be the first one to note that ethical flaws (and i'm thinking
> critically about attributing any intentionality here) seem to be
> operationalized methods flaws...any thoughts on where this discussion has
> already taken place?
> best,
> mary
> _._._._._._._._._._._._._._._._._._._._._
> Mary L. Gray <mlgray at ucsd.edu>
> Department of Communication
> University of California, San Diego
> vox:   502/451.5003
> mail:   PO Box 4004, Louisville, KY 40204
> http://weber.ucsd.edu/~mgray
> -.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-
> > From: david silver <dsilver at u.washington.edu>
> > Reply-To: air-l at aoir.org
> > Date: Thu, 11 Jul 2002 12:44:17 -0700 (PDT)
> > To: air-l at aoir.org
> > Subject: Re: [Air-l] Great Ethical disasters in Internet Research?
> > 
> > Quentin,
> > 
> > i mentioned the HomeNet study because it seems to me that it qualifies as
> > one of the major controversies in internet research that chris and
> > christian are seeking.  my point about the methodologically flawed aspect
> > was less a critique of the methods (i'm hardly an expert on the
> > quantitative analysis put forth by the authors) and more to the point that
> > the controversy was methodologically-based rather than ethically-based.  i
> > could easily be wrong though and would like to hear more from others.
> > 
> > david silver
> > 
> > On Wed, 10 Jul 2002, Quentin (Gad) Jones wrote:
> > 
> >> I have read on a number of occasions attacks on the HomeNet studies for
> >> poor methodology.  I am yet to read in these same messages details as to
> >> why considering the claims that were REALLY made by the researchers as
> >> to why the research was so "Flawed".  The depression claim was not made
> >> as the journalists wrote.  Nearly all research is flawed, the question
> >> then is relative.  Perhaps David would like to explain why HomeNet is
> >> particularly flawed research.
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > _______________________________________________
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> > Air-l at aoir.org
> > http://www.aoir.org/mailman/listinfo/air-l
> > 
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