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

Christian Sandvig christian.sandvig at socio-legal-studies.oxford.ac.uk
Fri Jul 12 03:47:13 PDT 2002

Thank you all for the interesting responses so far!  If I can think out loud
a little bit in response to the 'methods' vs. 'ethics':  What if we had not
mentioned ethics, and had titled the post 'Great Disasters in Internet
Research?'  Could we think of a single great disaster that lacks an ethical
component?  I don't think so.  (If we could, wouldn't this imply a natural

I favor the Rimm study as an example because I think of it as an unambiguous
case of research that has been widely critiqued as unethical.  Here is a
great overview of the debate, with links to about twenty critiques:


Thanks to Tom Novak for putting this excellent page together.

To endorse Chris's points:  I am just a simple practitioner, yet when I see
the tendency to equate "research ethics" with a narrower "subject ethics," I
don't understand why "ethics" should live within such a small box.  It could
be that people shy away from identifying something as unethical because
calling a researcher unethical is so pejorative, but in the context of this
thread I'm not sure why identifying them with a disaster is any better.

Even though David and Quentin disagree about HomeNet, we could partially
reconcile them by saying that if HomeNet was a disaster, the disaster might
best be located in the media coverage of the research.  (It would be harder
to say the same thing about the Rimm study.)  I'd bet if we identify other
examples (e.g., David's dot.com valuations) this idea of "flawed" coverage
will be a theme.

It is still raining here, so are there any other nominations?


Christian Sandvig
christian.sandvig at oii.ox.ac.uk

More information about the Air-L mailing list