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

C.C. Mann ccm10 at cam.ac.uk
Fri Jul 12 03:16:45 PDT 2002

Hi! Thanks for the interesting responses so far to the Great Ethical
Disasters thread. Frank raised a very interesting point when he said
he'd ' like to have some objectives, some scales linked to the
objectives' before assessing if something is ethical. To this I'd say
'yes-exactly- but what kind of objectives would we be talking about? Is
something ethical in terms of its OWN research objectives - or are there
general objectives which apply to all studies? Do other people who are
aware of the Rimm study think it's ethical/unethical - and, if so, why??

I also want to pick up on the debate started by David Silver who seems
to be making a distinction between 'unethical research' and '
methodologically flawed' research.
Personally i'd argue that while the use of an appropriate research
methodology  may seem morally neutral  –  in fact the way a research
project is designed is crucial to its moral acceptability. If a research
method doesn’t succeed in answering the question posed then it wastes
resources – or if it gives incorrect data then bad theory or practice
may be established. (Clare Foster in a book called The Ethics of Medical
Research on Humans, 2001, argues this very well). In my opinion
assessing the validity of data generated by the Internet is an ethical
as well as a methodological challenge.
Also, in a new research area like the Internet, you could argue that
researchers have  moral obligations to the research community. If the
researcher is careless or lacks expertise, disillusioned arespondents
may no longer be willing to participate in research projects. Some
commentators have raised the issue of  enthusiastic well meaning DIY
types who collect data using ‘the new fun toy’ that is the internet.
These people may not know the ethical rules of professional and other
bodies so may unwittingly break them. Research instruments may be badly
designed and promises made to recipients may not be fulfilled – adding
to feelings of disillusionment and alarm. It could be argued that
researchers who are guilty of negligence are acting in ways that will
harm others – not just the individuals they are working with – but also
because they close down opportunities for valuable Internet research to
be conducted in the future.
We're all starting to be aware that increasingly chat rooms and
newsgroups are starting to resent the intrusion of researchers who they
feel come in and ‘strip the assets’ of the group. I personally think
that a research method which leaves behind bad feeling among
participants  is morally suspect!

What do other people think about this???

Cheers chris

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