[Air-L] public/private

Ed Lamoureux ell at bumail.bradley.edu
Sun Aug 12 11:58:31 PDT 2007

"And those are my last words on the subject, I for one am signing out  
of this "discussion" due to what I see as intransigence by the  
protagonist who clearly has an agenda."

I think that maybe you misunderstand my intention and motivation.  
Perhaps not. But I'll try to explain.

I don't really have some sort of hidden agenda here. My concern is  
that there are faculty, researchers, and students who may well be  
exposing human subjects to undue risks, without the IRB at their  
place reviewing their plans. If folks take the position that  
virtually everything available on the inter-web thingie is a public  
document, open to research without any application to an IRB, then no  
one is looking out for human subjects. My good friend Jeremy has even  
taken the position that the people that produce these texts aren't  
even subjects. I'm sorry, but I just don't agree.

Granted, people who post (many of whom are minors) do subject  
themselves to the dangers of making their private information widely  
available to others. But to just say that it's all out there so there  
aren't any rules, is, in my view, drastically wrong. I believe that  
some of the rules DO apply. And even if they don't I think that we  
should follow ethical guidelines that are MORE concerned about  
protecting human subjects than we are about furthering our own  
research agenda.

Two other points. This list serves a lot of people like you . . .  
graduate students looking for direction. In fact, this thread was  
started by a grad student asking for advice/direction. What's a  
faculty member to do? Ignore possible issues and just say "OK KID, GO  
FOR IT!" even when and if they think there are issues to be  
discussed? We were asked our opinion about these considerations. Both  
sides of the issue have been represented and discussed. I think  
that's healthy.

That's why stuff like this is often called a "contested issue." Just  
because one side says that it's a done deal, doesn't always make it  
so (not even my side). That's why I shared the U of Ill. procedure  
document. That wasn't my argument (though I used it) . .  . those are  
procedures used by a fairly enlightened IRB. I think those procedures  
would apply to a lot of the web-netted research that's been discussed  
here. Other folks don't think so. Ok.

Second, some of us are the same faculty who will go into our classes  
and preach hour after hour to our students about the public loss of  
privacy in America . . all the time cautioning our students (let  
alone our children) about the dangers of over-exposing private  
information. Or at least, I should say, I do.

Then are we the very same faculty that turn around and grab whatever  
we can find from that netted-web without regard for protecting the  
very humans who produced the texts we want to study? That doesn't  
strike me as right, somehow.

I'm sorry if I sound intransigent. I'm really not. I've often made  
applications to IRBs with all sorts of efforts to finesse various  
strictures, for various reasons. But I know, for example, that when  
Linden Lab took down their TOS restrictions to and procedures for  
research in Second Life, they explicitly offered the idea that they  
expected that the oversight provided to researchers by their local  
IRB would suffice. But for that to happen, applications to do the  
work, to get the exemption, must be filed. If the faculty member  
says, instead, "Oh, I know this is ok," then no oversight occurs.

I honestly DO NOT have an axe to grind over this. I DO happen to  
think that open discussion of issues such as these are important. I  
also think that the internet is a fuzzy enough business that the  
answers are not fixed or obvious or universal.  I am sorry if I  
seemed stubborn. I too, will quit now as I've made the key points I  
want to make and repeating them just wastes valuable bits and bandwidth.


Edward Lee Lamoureux,

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