Textbook Babbie ch. 3

Textbook Babbie ch. 3 - The Ethics and Politics of Social...

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Unformatted text preview: The Ethics and Politics of Social Research CHAPTERHOVERVIE ,4! .. {F 33‘s“ 5: ool reserc akes plate desr - n: and executing hEII “I ran "' ‘ research.0ften,howevet,c|e :gut 7. “in; answers tothotny et icala ,. mm Issues are ard to toe‘b . Research Introduction Ethical Issues in'chial. Voluntary Participation No Harm to the Participants Anonymity and Confidentiality Deception Analysis and Reporting Institutional Review Boards Professional Codes of Ethics"‘ CengageNDW tor Sociology Use this online tool to help you make the grade onyour next exam. Alter 'ifwo,EthicalTControyersieS‘ Trouble in the Tearoom Observing-Human Obediegce “the radians-oi Sadat Research Objectivity and Ideology Politics with a'Little “p"=' in_.Perspective reading this chapter, go to “Unline Study Resources” at the endvol' the chapter for instrucrions on how to benefit from CengageNOW." ’ AI- in. Introduction My purpose in this book is to present a realistic and useful introduction to doing social research. For this introduction to be fully realistic, it must / include four main constraints on research projects: scientific, administrative, ethical, and political. Most of the book focuses on scientific and administrative constraints. We‘ll see that the logic of science suggests certain research procedures, but we’ll also see that some scientifically “perfect” study designs are not administratively feasible, be- cause they would be too expensive or take too long to execute. Throughout the book, therefore, we'll deal with workable compromises. Before we get to the scientific and administra- tive constraints on research, it's useiu‘i to explore the two other important considerations in doing research in the real world—ethics and politics— which this chapter covers. Just as certain proce- dures are too impractical to use, others are either ethically prohibitive or politically difficult or impos- sible. Here's a story to illustrate what I mean. Several years ago, I was invited to sit in on a planning session to design a study of legal edu- cation in Caliiomia. The joint project was to be conducted by a university research center and the state bar association. The purpose of the project was to improve legal education by learning which aspects of the law school experience were related to success on the bar exam. Essentially, the plan was to prepare a questionnaire that would get detailed information about the law school experiences of in- dividuals. People would be required to answer the questionnaire when they took the bar exam. By analyzing how peeple with different kinds of law school experiences did on the bar exam, we could find out what sorts of things worked and what didn't. The findings of the research could be made available to law schools, and ultimately legal educa- tion could be improved. The exciting thing about collaborating with the bar association was that all the normally irritating logistical hassles would be handled. There would be no problem getting permission to administer introduction I 63 questionnaires in conjunction with the exam, for example, and the problem of nonresponse could be "' eliminated altogether. I left the meeting excited about the prospects for the study. When I told a colleague about it. I glowed about the absolute handling of the nonre- sponse problem. Her immediate comment turned everything around completely. “That‘s unethical. There's no law requiring the questionnaire, and participation in research has to be voluntary.” The study wasn't done. In retelling this story, I can easily see that re- quiring participation would have been inappropri- ate. You may have seen this even before I told you about my colleague's comment. I still feel a little embarrassed over the matter, bttt I have a specific purpose in telling this story about myself. All of us consider ourselves ethical—not perfect perhaps, but as ethical as anyone else and perhaps more so than most. The problem in social research, as probably in life, is that ethical consid- erations are not always apparent to us. As a result, we_often plunge into things without seeing ethical issues that may be apparent to others and may even be obvious to us when pointed out. When I reported back to the others in the planning group, for example, no one disagreed with the inappropri» ateness of requiring participation. Everyone was a bit embarrassed about not having seen it. Any of us can immediately see that a study requiring small children to be tortured is unethical. I know you’d speak out immediately if I suggested that we interview people about their sex lives and then publish what they said in the local newspaper. But, as ethical as you are, you’ll totally miss the ethical issues in some other situations—we all do. Tire first half of this chapter deals with the ethiCs of social research. In part, it presents some of the broadly agreed-on norms describing what's ethical in research and what's not. More important than simply knowing the guidelines, however, is becoming sensitized to the ethical component in research so that you'll look for it whenever you plan a study. Even when the ethical aspects of a situation are debatable, you should know that ii if i I Will llll ii it “it 1| til! i lit l tit v l 64 I Chapter 3: The Ethics and Politics of Social Research there's something to argue about. It's worth noting in this context that many professions operate under ethical constraints and that these constraints differ from one profession to another. Thus. priests, phy- sicians, lawyers, reporters, and television producers operate under different ethical constraints. in this chapter. we'll look only at the ethical principles that govern social research. Political considerations in research are also subtle, ambiguous, and arguable. Notice that the law school example involves polities as well as ethics. Although social researchers have an ethical norm that participation in research should be vol— untary, this norm clearly grows out of US. political norms protecting civil liberties. In some nations, the proposed study would have been considered quite ethical. In the second half of this chapter, we’ll look at social research projects that were crushed or nearly crushed by political considerations. As with ethi- cal concerns, there is often no ”correct" take on a given situation. People of goodwill disagree. I won't try to give you a party line about what is and is not politically acceptable. As with ethics, the point is to become sensitive to the political dimension of social research. Ethical Issues in Social Research In most dictionaries and in common usage, eth- ics is typically associated with morality, and both words concern matters of right and wrong. But what is right and what wrong? What is the source of the distinction? For individuals the sources vary. They may be religions, political ideologies, or the pragmatic observation of what seems to work and what doesn't. Webster's New world Dictionary is typical among dictionaries in defining ethical as "conforming to the standards of conduct of a given profession or group.” Although this definition may frustrate those in search of moral absolutes, what we regard as morality and ethics in day-to-day life is a matter of agreement among members of a group. And, not surprisingly, different groups have agreed on dif- ferent codes of conduct. Part of living successfully in a particular society is knowing What that society considers ethical and unethical. The same holds true for the social research community. Anyone involved in social science research, then, needs to be aware of the general agreements shared by researchers about what is proper and improper in the conduct of scientific inquiry. This section summarizes some of the most important ethical agreements that prevail in social research. Voluntary Participation Often, though not always. social research repre- sents an intrusion into people's lives. The inter- viewer’s knock on the door or the arrival of a questionnaire in the mail signals the beginning of an activity that the respondent has not requested and that may require significant time and energy. Participation in a social experiment disrupts the subject's regular activities. Social research, moreover, often requires that people reveal personal information about themselves-ninformation that may be unknown to their friends and associates. And social research often requires that such information be revealed to strangers. Other professionals, such as physi- cians and lawyers, also ask for such information. Their requests may be justified, however, by their aims: They need the information in order to serve the personal interests of the respondent. Social researchers can seldom make this claim. Like medi- cal scientists, they can only argue that the research effort may ultimately help all humanity. A major tenet of medical research ethics is that experimental participation must be voluntary. The same norm applies to social research. No one should he forced to participate. This norm is far easier to accept in theory than to apply in practice, however. Again, medical research provides a useful paral- lel. Many experimental drugs used to be tested on prisoners. In the most rigorously ethical cases, the prisoners Were told the nature and the possible dangers of the experiment, they were told that par- ticipation was completely voluntary, and they were further instructed that they could expect no special rewards—such as early pa role—for participation. Even under these conditions, it was often clear that volunteers were motivated by the belief that they would personally benefit from their cooperation. when the instructor in an introductory sociology class asks students to fill out a question- naire that he or she hopes to analyze and publish, students should always be told that participation in the survey is completely voluntary. Even so, most students will fear that nonparticipation will somehow affect their grade. The instructor should therefore be sensitive to such implications and make special provisions to eliminate them. For example, the instructor could insure anonymity by leaving the room while the questionnaires are being completed. Or, students could be asked to return the questionnaires by mail or to drop them in a box near the door just before the next course meeting. This norm of voluntary participation, though, goes directly against several scientific concerns. In the most general terms, the scientific goal of gen— eralizability is threatened if experimental subjects or survey respondents are all the kind of people who willingly participate in such things. Because this orientation probably reflects more general personality traits, the results of the research might not be generalizable to all people. Most clearly, in the case of a descriptive survey, a researcher can- not generalize the sample survey findings to an entire population unless a substantial majority of the scientifically selected sample actually partici- pates—the willing reSpondents and the somewhat unwilling. As you’ll see in Chapter 10, field research has its own ethical dilemmas in this regard. Very often the researcher cannot even reveal that a study is being done, for fear that that revelation might significantly affect the social processes being stud- ied. Clearly, the subjects of study in such cases are not given the opportunity to volunteer or refuse to participate. Though the norm of voluntary participation is important, it is often impossible to follow. In cases where researchers feel ultimately justified in , Violating it, their observing the other ethical norms Ethical Issues In Social Researdt I 65 of scientific research, such as bringing no harm to the people under study, becomes all the more important. No Harm to the Participants The need for no‘n'ngagainst harming research subjects has stemmed in part from horrendous actions by medical researchers. Perhaps at the top of list stand the medical experiments on prisoners of war by Nazi researchers in World War II. The subsequent war-crimes trials at Nuremberg added the phrase m‘mes against humanity to the language of research and political ethics. Less well-known were the Tuskegee syphilis experiments conducted by the US. Public Health Service between 1932 and 1972. The study fol- lowed the fate of nearly 400 impoverished, rural African American men suffering from syphilis. Even after penicillin had been accepted as an effec- tive treatment for syphilis, the subjects were denied treatment—even kept from seeking treatment in the community—because the researchers wanted to observe the full progression of the disease. At times, diagnostic procedures such as spinal taps were falsely presented to subjects as cures for syphilis. When the details of the Tuskegee syphilis ex- periments became Widely known, the US. govern- ment took action. including a formal apology by President Bill Clinton and a program of financial reparations to the families of the subjects. (You can learn more about this sad history in medical research at the link on this book’s website: http:li www.cengage.comisociologylbabble.) Human research should never injure the people being studied, regardless of whether they volunteer for the study. In social research practice, this often concerns being careful not to reveal information that would embarrass subjects or endanger their home lives, friendships, jobs, and so forth. We‘ll discuss this aspect of the norm more fully in a moment. Because subjects can be harmed psychologi- cally in the course of a social research study, the researcher must look for the subtlest dangers and guard against them. Quite often, research subjects 66 I Chapter 3: The Ethics and Politics of Social Research are asked to reveal deviant behavior, attitudes they feel are unpopular, or personal characteristics that may seem demeaning. such as low income, the receipt of welfare payments, and the like. Reveal- ing such information usually makes subjects feel at least uncomfortable. Social research projects may also force partici- pants to face aspects of themselves that they don’t normally consider. This can happen even when the information is not revealed directly to the re- searcher. In retrospect, a certain past behavior may appear unjust or immoral. The project, then, can cause continuing personal agony for the subject. If the study concerns codes of ethical conduct, for example, the subject may begin questioning his or her own morality, and that personal concern may last long after the research has been completed and reported. For instance, probing questions can injure a fragile self-esteem. In 1971 the psychologist Philip Zimbardo cre- ated his famous simulation of prison life, widely known as the Stanford prison experiment, to study the dynamics of prisoner—guard interactions. Zimbardo employed Stanford students as subjects and randomly assigned them to roles as prison- ers or guards. As you may be aware, the simula- tion became quickly and increasingly real for all the participants, including Zimbardo, who served as prison superintendent. It became evident that many of the student-prisoners were suffering psy- chological damage as a consequence of their mock incarceration, and some of the student-guards were soon exhibiting degrees of sadism that would later challenge their own self-images. As these developments became apparent to Zimbardo, he terminated the experiment. He then created a debriefing program in which all the par- ticipants were counseled so as to avoid any lasting damage from the experience. (See the link on this book's website, http://www.cengage.c0ml sociologyibabbie, for a link to Zimbardo's discussion of the experiment.) informed consent A norm in which subjects base their voluntary participation in research projects on a full understanding of the" possible risks involved. a: us: As you can see, just about any research you might conduct runs the risk of injuring other people in some way. It isn’t possible to insure against all these possible injuries, but some study designs make such injuries more likely titan others do. If a particular research procedure seems likely to produce unpleasant effects for subjects—asking survey respondents to report deviant behavior, for example—the researcher should have the firmest of scientific groands for doing it. If your research design is essential and also likely to be unpleas- ant for subjects, you'll find yourself in an ethical netherworld and may go through some personal agonizing. Although agonizing has little value in itself, it may be a healthy sign that you’ve become sensitive to the problem. Increasingly, the ethical norms of voluntary participation and no harm to participants have become formalized in the concept of informed consent. This norm means that subjects must base their voluntary participation in research projects on a full understanding of the possible risks involved. In a medical experiment, for example, prospec- tive subjects are presented with a discussion of the experiment and all the possible risks to themselves. They are required to sign a statement indicat- ing that they are aware of the risks and that they choose to participate anyway. Although the value of such a procedure is obvious when subjects will be injected with drugs designed to produce physical effects, for example, it's hardly appropriate when a participant observer rushes to a scene of urban rioting to study deviant behavior. Whereas the re- searcher in this latter case must still bring no harm to those observed, gaining informed consent is not the means to achieving that end. Although the fact often goes unrecognized, another possible source of harm to subjects lies in the analysis and reporting of data. Every now and then, research subjects read the books published about the studies they participated in. Reason— ably Sophisticated subjects can locate themselves in the various indexes and tables. Having done so, they may find themselves characterized though not identified by name as bigoted, unpatriotic, irreligious, and so forth. At the very least, such characterizations are likely to trouble them and threaten their self-images. Yet the whole purpose of the research project may be to explain why some people are prejudiced and others are not. In one survey of churchwomen (Babbie 1967), ministers in a sample of churches were asked to distribute questionnaires to a specified sample of members, collect them, and return them to the research office. One of these ministers read through the questionnaires from his sample before returning them, and then he delivered a hellfire and brimstone sermon to his congregation, saying that many of them were atheists and were going to hell. Even though he could not identify the people who gave particular responses, many respondents certainly endured personal harm from his tirade. Like voluntary participation, avoiding harm to people is easy in theory but often difficult in practice. Sensitivity to the issue and experience with its applications, however, should improve the researchers tact in delicate areas of research. in recent years, social researchers have been gaining support for abiding by this norm. Federal and other funding agencies typically require an independent evaluation of the treatment of human subjects for research proposals, and most universi— ties now have human-subject committees to serve this evaluative function. Although sometimes troublesome and inappropriately applied, such requirements not only guard against unethical re- search but also can reveal ethical issues overlooked by even the most scrupulous researchers. Anonymity and Confidentiality The clearest concern in the protection of the subjects’ interests and well-being is the protection of their identity. especially in survey research. if revealing their survey responses would injure them in any way, adherence to this norm becomes all the more important. Two techniques—anonymity and C()nfldCflllalllY,—aSSlSi researchers in this regard, although people often confuse the two. Anonymity A research project guarantees anonymity when the researcher—hunt just the people who read about the researchwcannot identify a given Ethical Issues in Social Research I 67 response with a given respondent. This implies that a typical interview-survey respondent can never be considered anonymous, because an interviewer collects the information from an identifiable respondent. An example of anonymity is a mail survey in which no’identification numbers are put on the questionnaires before their return to the Ii'esearch office. As We'll see in Chapter 9 (on survey research), assuring anonymity makes keeping track of who has or hasn’t returned the questionnaires difficult. Despite this problem, paying the necessary price is advisable in certain situations. For example, in one study of drug use among university students. I decided that I specifically did not want to know the identity of respondents. I felt that honestly assuring anonymity would increase the likelihood and accuracy of responses. Also, I did not want to be in the position of being asked by authorities for the names of drug offenders. In the few instances in which respondents volunteered their names, such information was immediately obliterated from the questionnaires. Confidentiality A research project guarantees confidentiality when the researcher can identify a given person’s responses but essentially promises not to do so publicly. In an interview survey, for example, the researcher could make public the income reported by a given respondent, but the respondent is as- sured that this will not be done. Whenever a research project is confidential rather titan anonymous, it is the researcher’s responsibility to make that fact clear to the anonymity Anonymity is achieved in a research project when neither the researchers nor the readers of the findings can identify a given response with a given respondent. confidentiality A research project guarantees confidentiality when the researcher can identify a given person‘s responses but promises not to do so publicly. 53 - Chapter 3: The Ethics and Politics of Social Research respondent. Moreover, researchers sitOuld never. use the term anonymous to mean confidential. With few exceptions (such as surveys of public figures who agree to have their responses pub- lished), the information respondents give must at least be kept confidential. This is not always an easy norm to follow, because for example the courts have not recognized social research data as the kind of “privileged communication" priests and attor— neys have. This unprotected guarantee of confidentiality produced a near disaster in 1991. No years earlier, the Exxon Valdez supertanker had run aground near the port of Valdez in Alaska, spill- ing ten million gallons of oil into the bay. The economic and environmental damage was widely reported. The media paid less attention to the psychologi- cal and sociological damage suffered by residents of the area. There were anecdotal reports of increased alcoholism. family violence, and other secondary consequences of the disruptions caused by the oil spill. Eventually, 22 communities in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska sued Exxon for the economic, social, and psydiological damages suf- fered by their residents. To determine the amount of damage done, the communities commissioned a San Diego research firm to undertake a household survey asking residents very personal questions about increased problems in their families. The sample of residents were asked to reveal painful and embarrassing information, under the guarantee of absolute confidentiality. Ultimately, the results of the survey confirmed that a variety of personal and family problems had increased substantially following the oil spill. When Exxon learned that survey data would be presented to document the suffering, they took an unusual step: They asked the court to subpoena the survey questionnaires. The court granted the request and ordered the researchers to turn over the questionnaires—with all identifying informa- tion. It appeared that Exxon’s intention was to call survey respondents to the stand and cross-examine them regarding answers they had given to inter- viewers under the guarantee of confidentiality. Moreover, many of the respondents were Native Americans, whose cultural norms made such pub- lic revelations all the more painful. Happily, the Exxon Valdez case was settled before the court decided whether it would force survey respondents to testify in open court. Unhap- pily, the potential for disaster remains. (For more information on this ecological disaster, see Picou. Gill, and Cohen (1999).) The seriousness of this issue is not limited to established research firms. Rik Scarce was a graduate student at Washington State University when he undertook participant observation among animal-rights activists. In 1990 he published a book based on his research: Ecowarrr'ors: Understanding the Radical Enw'ronmentdl Movement. In 1993, Scarce was called before a grand jury and asked to identify the activists he had studied. In keeping with the norm of confidentiality, the young researcher refused to answer the grand jury's questions and spent 159 days in the Spokane County jail. He reports, Although I answered many of the prosecutor’s questions, on 32 occasions I refused to answer, saying, “Your question calls for information that I have only by virtue of a confidential disclo- sure given to me in the course of my research activities. I cannot answer the question without actually breaching a confidential communica- tion. Consequently, I decline to answer the question under my ethical obligations as a member of the American Sociological Associa- tion and pursuant to any privilege that may extend to journalists, researchers, and writers under the First Amendment.” 7 (Sea rce 1999: 982) At the time of his grand jury appearance and his incarceration, Scarce felt that the American So- ciological Association (ASA) code of ethics strongly supported his ethical stand, and the ASA filed a friend of the court brief on his behalf. In 1997, the ASA revised its code and, while still upholding the norm of confidentiality, warned researchers to inform themselves regarding laws and rules that may limit their ability to promise confidentiality to research subjects. You can use several techniques to guard against such dangers and ensure better performance on the guarantee of confidentiality. To begin, interviewers and others with access to respondent identifications should be trained in their ethical responsibilities. Beyond training, the most fundamental technique is to remove identifying information as soon as it's no longer necessary. In a survey, for example, all names and addresses should be removed from questionnaires and replaced by identification numbers. An identification file should be created that links numbers to names to permit the later correction of missing or contradictory informa- tion, but this file should not be available except for legitimate purposes. Similarly, in an interview survey you may need to identify respondents initially so that you can recontact them to verify that the interview was conducted and perhaps to get information that was missing in the original interview. As soon as you've verified an interview and assured yourself that you don't need any further information from the respondent, however, you can safely remove all identifying information from the interview booklet. Often, interview booklets are printed so that the first page contains all the identifiers—it can be torn off once the respondent's identification is no longer needed. J. Steven Picou (1996a, 1996b) points out that even removing identifiers from data files does not always sufficiently protect respondent confidentiality, a lesson he learned during nearly a year in federal court. A careful examination of all the responses of a particular respondent sometimes allows others to deduce that person‘s identity. Imagine, for example, that someone said he or she was a former employee of a particular company. Knowing the person's gender, age, ethnicity, and other characteristics could enable the company to identify that person. Even if you intend to remove all identify- ing information, Suppose you have not yet done so. What do you do when the police or a judge orders you to provide the responses given by your research subjects? in 2002. the US. Department of Health and Human Services announced a program to issue a “Certificate of Confidentiality” to protect the con- Ethical Issues in Social Research I 69 fidentiality of research subject data against forced disclosure by the police and other authorities. Not all research projects qualify for such protection, but it can provide an important support for research ethics in many cases. ,. Under sectiorf" 301 (d) of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C. 241 (d)) the Secretary of Health and Human Services may authorize persons engaged in biomedical, behavioral, clinical, or other research to protect the privacy of individuals who are the subjects of that re- search. This authority has been delegated to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Persons authorized by the NIH to protect the privacy of research subjects may not be compelled in any Federal, State, or local civil, criminal, administrative, legislative, or other proceedings to identify them by name or other identifying characteristic. (U.S. Department ofHealrh and Human Services 2002) Source: http://grantmilrgov/grants/policnyOC/ bdckgronndlrtm?prz'rit=yese1 in all the aspects of research ethics discussed in this chapter, professional researchers avoid settling for mere rote compliance with established ethical rules. Rather, they continually ask what actions would be most appropriate in protecting the interests of those being studied. Here's the way Penny Becker (1998: 452) addressed the issue of confidentiality in con- nection with a qualitative research project studying religious life in a community: Following the lead of several recent studies, I identify the real name of the community, Oak Park, rather than reducing the complexity of the community's history to a few underlying dirnensions or creating an “insiderloutsider” dynamic where some small group of fellow researchers knows the community’s real name and the rest of the world is kept in the dark. . . . In all cases individual identities are disguised, except for Jack Finney, the Lutheran pastor, who gave permission to be identified. "City Baptist” is a pseudonym used at the request of the church’s leadership. The leaders of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church (GSLC) gave per- mission to use the church’s real name. 70 I Chapter 3: The Ethics and Politics of Social Research Deception We’ve seen that the handling of subjects‘ identi- ties is an important ethical consideration. Handling your own identity as a researcher can also be tricky. Sometimes it’s useful and even necessary to iden- tify yourself as a researcher to those you want to study. You’d have to be an experienced con artist to get people to participate in a laboratory experiment or complete a lengthy questionnaire without letting on that you were conducting research. Even when you must conceal your research identity, you need to consider the following. Because deceiving people is unethical, deception within social research needs to be justified by com- pelling scientific or administrative concerns. Even then, the justification will be arguable. Sometimes researchers admit that they’re do- ing research but fudge about why they’re doing it or for whom. Suppose you've been asked by a public Welfare agency to conduct a study of living standards among aid recipients. Even if the agency is looking for ways of improving conditions, the recipient-subjects are likely to fear a witch hunt for “cheaters.” They might be tempted, therefore, to give answers that make them seem more destitute than they really are. Unless they provide truthful answers, however, the study will not produce ac- curate data that will contribute to an improvement of living conditions. What do you do? One solution would be to tell subjects that you’re conducting the study as part of a university research program—concealing your affiliation with the welfare agency. Although doing that improves the scientific quality of the study, it raises serious ethical questions. Lying about research purposes is common in laboratory experiments. Although it's difficult to conceal that you're conducting research, it’s usually simple—and sometimes appropriate-to conceal your purpose. Many experiments in social psychol- ———————-——_._____ debriefing Interviewing subjects to learn about their experience of participation in the project. ESpe- cially important if there's a possibility that they have . been damaged by that participation. ogy, for example, test the extent to which subjects will abandon the evidence of their own observa- tions in favor of the views expressed by others. Recall Figure 2-1 (p. 42), which shows the stimulus from the classic Asch experiment—frequently rep- licated by psychology classes—in which subjects are shown three lines of differing lengths (A, B, and C) and asked to compare them with a fourth line (X). Subjects are then asked, "Which of the first three lines is the same length as the fourth?” You’d probably find it a fairly simple task to identify “B” as the correct answer. Your job would be complicated, however, by the fact that several other “subjects” sitting beside you all agree that A is the same length as X! In reality, of course, the oth- ers in the experiment are all confederates of the re- searcher, told to agree on the wrong answer. As we saw in Chapter 2, the purpose of the experiment is to see whether you'd give up your own judg- ment in favor of the group agreement. I think you can see that conformity is a useful phenomenon to study and understand, and it couldn’t be studied experimentally without deceiving the subjects. We’ll examine a similar situation in the discussion of a famous experiment by Stanley Milgram later in this chapter. The question is, how do we get around the ethical issue that deception is necessary for an experiment to work? One appropriate solution researchers have found is to debrief subjects following an experi- ment. Debriefing entails interviews to discover any problems generated by the research experi- ence so that those problems can be corrected. Even though subjects can‘t be told thetrue purpose of the study prior to their participation in it, there’s usually no reason they can’t know afterward. Telling them the truth afterward may make up for having to lie to them at the outset. This must be done with care. hOWever, making sure the subjects aren't left with bad feelings or doubts about them- selves based on their performance in the experi- ment. If this seems complicated, it's simply the price we pay for using other people’s lives as the subject matter for our research. As a social researcher, then, you have many ethical obligations to the subjects in your studies. “Ethical Issues in Research on Human Sexuality” Department ofSociology lllirror's State University hen studying any form of human behaviorethical concern; are paramount. This statement may be even truer for studies of human sexuality because of the topic's highly personal, salient, and perhaps threatening nature. toncemhas been expressed by the public and by legislators about human sexuality researchlhree commonly discussed ethical criteria have been related specifically to research in the area of human sexuality. ‘ Informed Consent This criterion emphasizes the importance of both accurately informing your subject or respondent as to the nature ofthe research and obtaining his or her verbal or written consent to participatetioercion is not to be used to force participation, and Subjects may terminate their involvement in the research at any timelhere are many possible violations of this standard. Misrepresentation or deception may be used when describing an embarrassing or personal topic of study, because the researchers fear high rates of refusal or false data. (overt researchsuch as some observational studies, also violate the informed consent standard since subjects are unaware that they are be- ing studied. Informed consent may create special problems with certain populations. For example, studies of the sexuality of children are limited by the concern that children maybe cognitively and emotionally unable to give informed consent. Although there can be problems such as those discussed, most research is clearly voluntary, with informed consent from those participating. Right to Privacy Given the highly personal nature of sexuality and society's tremendous concern with social control of sexuality, the right to privacy is a very important ethical concern for research in this area. individuals may risk losing their jobs, having family difficulties, illustrates some of the ethical questions involved in a specific research area. Analysis and Reporting In addition to their ethical obligations to subjects, researchers have ethical obligations to their col- leagues in the scientific commuhity. These obliga- tions concern the analysis of data and the way the results are reported. Ethical Issues in Social Researdr I 71 or being ostracized by peers if certain facets of their sexual lives are revealedlhis is espgcially true for individuals involved in sexual behavior categoriz'éd'as deviant (such as transvestism).Violations of right to privacy occur when researchers identify members of certain groups they have studied, release or share an individual's data or responsesor covertly observe sexual behavior. In most cases, right to privacy is easily maintained by the researchersln survey research,self-administered questionnaires can be anonymous and interviews can be kept confidential. In case and observational studies, the identity of the person or group studied can be disguised in any publicationsln most research methods,analysis and reporting ofdata should be at the group or aggregate level Protection from Harm Harm may include emotional or psychological distressas well as physical harmPotcntial for harm varies by research method; it is more likely in experimental studies where the researcher manipulates or does something to the subject than in observational or survey research. Emotional distress, however, is a possibility in all studies of human sexuality. Respondents maybe asked questions that elicit anxietydredge up unpleasant memories, or cause them to evaluate themselves critically. Researchers can reduce the potential for such distress during a study by using anonymous, self-administered questionnaires or well-trained interviewers and by wording sensitive questions carefully. All three of these ethical criteria are quite subjective.Viola- tions are sometimes justified by arguing that risks to subjects are outweighed by benefits to societylhe issue here, of course, is who makes that critical decision. Usuallysuch decisions are made by the researcher and often a screening committee that deals with ethical concerns. Most creative researchers have been able to follow all three ethical guidelines and still do important research. In any rigorous study, the researcher should be more familiar than anyone else with the study‘s technical limitations and failures. Researchers have an obligation to make such shortcomings known to their readers—even if admitting qualifications and mistakes makes them feel foolish. Negative findings, for example, should be reported if they are at all related to the analysis. There is an unfortunate myth in scientific reporting that only positive discoveries are Worth reporting 72 - Gtapter 3: The Ethics and Politics of Social Research (journal editors are sometimes guilty of believing this as well). In science, however, it’s often as im- portant to know that two variables are not related as to know that they are. Similarly, researchers must avoid the tempta- tion to save face by describing their findings as the product of a carefully preplanned analytic strategy when that is not the case. Many findings arrive unexpectedly—even though they may seem obvi- ous in retrospect. So an interesting relationship was uncovered by accident—so what? Embroider- ing such situations with descriptions of fictitious hypotheses is dishonest. It also does a disservice to less-experienced researchers by leading them into thinking that all scientific inquiry is rigorously preplanned and organized. In general, science progresses through honesty and openness; ego defenses and deception retard it. Researchers can best serve their peers—and scientific discovery as a whole—by telling the truth about all the pitfalls and problems they’ve experi— enced in a particular line of inquiry. Perhaps they’ll save others from the same problems. Finally, there is a sense in which simple carelessness or sloppiness can be considered an ethical problem. If the research project uses up limited resources andlor imposes on subjects with no benefit produced by the research, many in the research community would consider that an ethical violation. This is not to say that all research must produce positive results, but it should be conducted in a manner that promotes that possibility. Institutional Review Boards The issue of research ethics in studies involving humans is now also govemed by federal law. Any agency (Such as a university or a hospital) wishing to receive federal research support must establish an Institutional Review Board (IRB), a panel of fac- ulty (and possibly others) who review all research proposals involving human subjects so that they can guarantee that the subjects’ rights and inter- ests will be protected. Although the law applies specifically to federally funded research, many uni- versities apply the same standards and procedures to all research, including that funded by nonfederal sources and even research done at no cost, such as student projects. The chief responsibility of an RE is to ensure that the risks faced by human participants in re- search are minimal. In some cases, the LRB may ask the researcher to revise the study design; in others, the IRB may refuse to approve a study. Where some minimal risks are deemed unavoidable, research- ers are required to prepare an “informed consent” form that describes those risks clearly. Subjects may participate in the study only after they have read the statement and signed it as an indication that they know the risks and voluntarily accept them. Much of the impetus for establishing IRBs had to do with medical experimentation on humans, and many social research study designs are gener- ally regarded as exempt frotn IRB review. An example is an anonymous sm‘vey sent to a large sample of respondents. The guideline to be fol- lowed by IRBs, as contained in the Federal Exemp- tion Categories (45 CFR 46.101 ]b]), exempts a variety of research situations: (1) ReSearch conducted in established or com- monly accepted educational settings, involv- ing normal educational practices, such as (i) research on regular and special education instructional strategies, or (ii) research on the effectiveness of or the comparison among in- structional techniques, curricula, or classroom management methods. (2) Research involving the use of educational tests (cognitive, diagnostic, aptitude, achieve- ment), survey procedures, interview proce~ dures or observation of public behavior, unless: (i) information obtained is recorded in such a manner that human subjects can be identified, directly or through identifiers linked to the subjects: and (ii) any disclo~ sure of the human subjects' responses out— side the research could reasonably place the subjects at risk of criminal or civil liability or be damaging to the subjects’ financial standing, employability, or reputation. (3) Research involving the use of educational tests (cognitive, diagnostic, aptitude, achievement), survey procedures, interview procedures, or observation of public behavior that is not exempt under paragraph (b)(2) of this section, if: (i) the human subjects are elected or ap- pointed public officials or candidates for public office; or (ii) Federal statute(s) require(s) without exception that the confidentiality of the personally identifiable information will be maintained throughout the research and thereafter. (4) Research involving the collection or study of existing data, documents, records, pathologi- cal specimens, or diagnostic specimens, if these sources are publicly available or if the informa- tion is recorded by the investigator in such a manner that subjects cannot be identified, di- rectly or through identifiers linked to the subjects. (5) Research and demonstration projects which are conducted by or subject to the ap- proval of Department or Agency heads, and which are designed to study, evaluate, or other- wise examine: (i) Public benefit or Service programs; (ii) procedures for obtaining benefits or ser- vices under those prOgrams; (iii) possible changes in or alternatives to those pro- grams or procedures; or (iv) possible changes in methods or levels of payment for benefits or services under those programs. (6) Taste and food quality evaluation and con- sumer acceptance studies, (i) if wholesome foods without additives are consumed or (ii) if a food is consumed that contains a food ingredi- ent at or below the level and for a use found to be safe, or agricultural chemical or environ- mental contaminant at or below the level found to be safe, by the Food and Drug Administra- tion or approved by the Environmental Protec- tion Agency or the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U5. Department of Agriculture. Paragraph (2) of the excerpt exempts much of the social research described in this book. Nonetheless, universities sometimes apply the law’s §——_——4 Ethical lssues in Social Research I 73 provisions inappropriately. As chair of a university IRB, for example, I was once asked to review the letter of informed consentihat was to be sent to medical insurance companies, requesting their agreement to participate in a survey that would ask which medical treatments were covered under their programs. Cigarly the humans involved were 'not at risk in the sense anticipated by the law. In a case like that, the appropriate technique for gaining informed consent is to mail the questionnaire. If a company returns it, they’ve consented. If they don't, they haven't. Other IRBs have suggested that research— ers need to obtain permission before observing participants in public gatherings and events, before conducting surveys on the most mundane mat- ters, and so forth. Christopher Shea (2000) has chronicled several such questionable applications of the law while supporting the ethical logic that originally prompted the law. Don't think that these critiques of IRBs mini— mize the importance of protecting human sub- jects. Indeed, some universities exceed the federal requirements in reasonable and responsible ways: requiring IRB review of nonfederally funded proj- ects, for example. Research ethics is an ever-evolving subject. be- cause new research techniques often require revis- iting old concerns. Thus, for example, the increased use of public databases for secondary research has caused some IRBs to worry whether they need to reexamine such projects as the General Social Sur- vey every time a researcher proposes to use those data. (Most have decided this is unnecessary; see Skedsvold 2002 for a discussion of issues relating to public databases.) Similarly, the prospects for research of and through the Internet has raised ethical concerns. In November 1999, the American Association for the Advancement of Science sponsored a workshop on this subject. The overall conclusion of the report produced by the workshop summarizes some of the primary concerns already examined in this chapter: The current ethical and legal framework for pmtecting human subjects rests on the principles of autonomy. beneficence, and “ll gill l I. SURVEY PFfACTICES THAT AAPOH CONDEMNS ; AAPOFt joins the Research Industry Coalition and the National Council on Public Polls in congemning certain a misleading practices sometimes performed in the name of research. in no case are the following practices deemed legitimate or acceptable elements of professionally conducted research: part of a research process. I This set of practices amounts to fund raising under the guise of research. It takes unfair advantage of the cooperative attitude that a majority of the public manifests when asked to take part in a legitimate information gathering process. in some cases, unwary members of the public are enticed to contribute i 1:; Requiring a monetary payment or soliciting monetary contributions from members of the public as money as a condition of gaining some future “benefit” from their participation. . Offering products or services for sale, or using participant contacts as a means of generating .l .sales leads. i A common practice is to gain entry or acceptance in order to make a sales pitch by initially defining the contact as being made for “research” purposes. This trades on the prestige of ecience, and it exploits the I willingness of the public to reveal intermation‘about themselves in the public interest. In some cases. , questions establish respondents‘ susceptibility to sales pressure or their interest in some product or 1 service. Follow-up contacts are then made to those so identified. all under the guise of “research.” | . Revealing the identity of Individual respondents to a survey or participants In a research process Without their permission: i it is normal research practice to pledge anonymity or confidentiality to the public in order to secure their a. cooperation and frankness in responding to questions. Revealing the identity of individuals. for whatever p: puipose, is a violation of that pledge unless a respondent's prior informed consent has been obtained. “I . Representing the results of a goo-number or other type of self-selected “poll” as if they were the i,‘ outcome of legitimate research. 900:number and other types of write-in, call-in, and interactive polls have become increasingly common. These f‘polis" report the opinions of only those people who called in, and not those of the general pubiic. AAPOFl believes that any publicizing or promotion of such activities not only damages legitimate market and survey research, but can be very misleading when used to influence public policy or simply to disseminate information about the general public. ' a . Conducting a so-called “push poll,” a telemarketing technique in which telephone calls are used I to canvass potential voters, feeding them false or misleaiiting “information” about a candidate I under the pretense of taking a poll to see how this "information" affects voter preferences. So-called “Push polls" are not polls at all. They are a form of political telemarketing whose‘intent is not to' measure public opinion but to manipulate — “push” T. voters away from one candidate and toward the opposing candidate. Such polls defame selected candidates by spreading false or misleading intormation about them. The intent is to disseminate campaign propaganda under the guise of condiicting a legitimate ..,pubiic opinion poll. Ftead AAPOH‘s recent statement on "push"- polls. 55? As members of AAii’OR, a professiorial organization which relies on public cooperation to gather information that is useful in formulating public policy as well as in understanding the public’s preferences for products and services, we condemn these practices in the strongest terms. FIGURE 3-1 Brcerpt from the Code of Conduct of the American Association for Public Opinion Research Source: American Association for Public Opinion Research, By-Laws {2005).The entire code of conduct can he found at the link on this book's website: htthi'www .rengage.comlsaciology/babbie. justice. The first principle, autonomy, requires that subjects be treated with respect as autono- mous agents and affirms that those persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to special protection. In practice, this principle is reflected in the process of informed consent, in which the risks and benefits of the research are discloscd to the subject. The second principle, benciiccnce, involves maximizing possible benefits and good for the subject. while mini- mizing the amount of possible harm and risks resulting from the research. Since the fruits of knowledge can come at a cost to those partici- pating in research, the last principle, justice, seeks a fair distribution of the bu rdcns and benefits associated with research, so that cer— tain individuals or groups do not bear dispro- portionate risks while othch reap the benefits. (Frankel and Starry 1999:2-3) Professional Codes of Ethics Ethical issues in social research are both important and ambiguous. For this reason. most of the profus— sional associations of social researchers have crcated and published formal codes of conduct describing what is considered acceptable and unacceptable professional behavior. As one example, Figurc 3~1 presents a portion of the code of conduct of the American Association for Public Opinion Rcsearch (AAOPR), an interdisciplinary research association in the social sciences. Most professional associations have such codes of ethics. See, for example. the American Sociological Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Political Science Association, and so forth. You can find many of these on the associations’ websites. in addition. the Association of Internet Researchers (ADIR) has a code of ethics accessible onlinc. The excerpt presented details several pseudoresearch practices that are denounced by AAPOR and other professional researchers. Two Ethical Controversies AS you may already have guessed, the adoption and publication of professiopal codes of condom have not totally resolved the issue of research eth- Two Ethical Contmversies I 75 ics. Social researchers still disagree on some general principles, and those who agree in principle often debate specifics. ‘ This section briefly describes two research projects that have provoked ethical controversy and discussion. The first project studied homosexual behavior in publifrgtrooms, and the second ex- ‘5mined obedience in a laboratory setting. Trouble in the Tearoom As a graduate student, Laud Humphreys became interested in the study of homosexual behavior. He developed a special interest in the casual and fleeting same-sex acts engaged in by some male nonhomosexuals. In particular, his research inter- est focused on homosexual acts between strangers meeting in the public restrooms in parks. called "tcarooms” among homosexuals. The result was the publication in 1970 of Tearoom Trade. What particularly interested Humphrcys about the tearoom activity was that the participants sccmcd otherwise to live conventional lives as "family men" and accepted members of the community. They did nothing else that might qualify them as homosexuals. Thus, it was impor- tant to them that they remain anonymous in their tcaroom visits. How would you study some- thing like that? Humphrcys decided to take advantage of the social structure of the situation. Typically, the tearoom encounter involved three people: the two men actually engaging in the sexual act and a look— out, called the ”watchqucen.” Humphreys began showing up at public restrooms, offering to serve as watchquecn Whenever it seemed appropriate. Because the watchqueen’s payoff was the chance to watch the action, Humphreys was able to conduct field observations as he would in a study of political rallies orjaywalking behavior at intersections. To round out his understanding of the tearoom trade, Humphreys needed to know something more about the people who participated. Because the men probably would not have been thrilled about being interviewed, Humphreys developed a different solution. Wheneirer possible, he noted the license numbers of participants’ cars and tracked down their names and addresses through the 76 I Chapter 3: The Ethics and Politics of Social Research police. Humphreys then visited the men at their homes, disguising himself enough to avoid recogni- tion, and announced that he was conducting a survey. In that fashion, he collected the personal information he couldn't get in the restrooms. As you can imagine, Humphreys' research provoked considerable controversy both inside and outside the social science community. Some critics charged Humphreys with a gross invasion of pri- vacy in the name of science. What men did in pub- lic restrooms was their own business. Others were mostly concerned about the deceit involved— Humphreys had lied to the participants by leading them to believe he was only a voyeur~participant. Even people who felt that the tea room participants were fair game for observation because they used a public facility protested the follow-up survey. They felt it was unethical for Humphreys to trace the participants to their homes and to interview them under false pretenses. Still others justified Humphreys' research. The topic, they said, was worth study. It couldn't be studied any other way, and they regarded the deceit as essentially harmless noting that Hum— phreys was careful not to harm his subjects by disclosing their tearoom activities. One result of Humphrey's research was to challenge some of the common stereotypes about the participants in anonymous sexual encounters in public places, showing them to be basically conventional in other aspects of their lives. The tearoom trade controversy has never been resolved. It's still debated, and it probably always will be. because it stirs emotions and involves ethical issues people disagree about. What do you think? Was Humphreys ethical in doing what he did? Are there parts of the research that you believe were acceptable and other parts that were not? (For more on the political and ethical context of the “tearoom” research, see the discussion by Joan Sieber at the link on this book's website: httpzii www.cengage.com.‘sociology;l babble.) Observing Human Obedience The second illustration differs from the first in many ways. Whereas Humphreys’ study involved participant observation, this study took place in the laboratory. Humphreys' study was sociological, this one psychological. And whereas Humphreys exam- ined behavior considered by many to be deviant, the researcher in this study examined obedience and conformity. One of the most unsettling cliches to come out of World War II was the German soldier's common excuse for atrocities: ‘1 was only following orders.” From the point of view that gave rise to this corn- ment, any behavior—mo matter how reprehen- siblencould be j uslified if someone else could be assigned responsibility for it. If a superior officer ordered a soldier to kill a baby, the fact of the order supposedly exempted the soldier from personal responsibility forthe action. Although the military tribunals that tried the war crime cases did not accept this excuse, social researchers and others have recognized the extent to which this point of view pervades social life. People often seem willing to do things they know would be considered wrong, if they can claim that some higher authority ordered them to do it. Such was the pattern of justification in the 1968 My Lai tragedy of Vietnam, when U.S. soldiers killed more than 300 unarmed civilians—some of them young children—simply because their village. My Lai, was believed to be a Viet Cong stronghold. This sort of justification appears lCSS dramatically in day-to-day civilian life. Few would disagree that this reliance an authority exists, yet Stanley Milgram's study (1963, 1965) of the topic provoked considerable Controversy. To observe people’s willingness to harm others when following orders, Milgram brought 40 adult men from many different walks of life into a laboratory setting designed to create the phenom- enon under study. If you had been a subject in the experiment, you would have had something like the following experience. You’ve been informed that you and another subject are about to participate in a learning experi- ment. Through a draw of lots, you’re assigned the job of “teacher” and your fellow subject the job of "pupil." The pupil is led into another room and strapped into a chair; an electrode is attached to his wrist. As the teacher, you're seated in front of an impressive electric control panel covered with dials, gauges, and switches. You notice that each switch has a label giving a different number of volts, ranging from 15 to 315. The switches have other labels, too, somewith the ominous phrases “Extreme-Intensity Shock,” “Danger—Severe Shock.” and “XXX.” The experiment runs like this. You read a list of word pairs to the learner and then test his ability to match them up. Because you can't see him, a light on your control panel indicates his answer. Whenever the learner makes a mistake, you‘re instructed by the experimenter to throw one of the switches beginning with the mildestmand administer a shock to your pupil. Through an open door between the two rooms. you hear your pupil‘s response to the shock. Then you read another list of word pairs and test him again. As the experiment progresses, you administer ever more intense shocks, until your pupil serearns for mercy and begs for the experiment to end. You're instructed to administer the next shock anyway. After a while, your pupil begins kicking the wall between the two rooms and continues to scream. The implacable experimenter tells you to give the next shock. Finally, you read a list and ask for the pupil's answer—but there is no reply whatever, only silence from the other room. The experimenter informs you that no answer is con- sidered an error and instructs you to administer the next higher shock. This continues up to the “XXX” shock at the end of the series. What do you suppose you really would have done when the pupil first began Screaming? when he began kicking on the wall? Or when he became totally silent and gave no indication of life? You'd refuse to continue giving shocks, right? And surely the same would be true of most people. So we might think——but Milgram found oth- El'Wise. 0f the first 40 adult men Milgram tested, nobody refused to continue administering the Shocks until they heard the pupil begin kicking the wall between the two rooms. Of the 40, 5 did so then. Two-thirds of the subjects, 26 of the 40, con- tinued doing as they were told through the entire Series—up to and including the administration of the highesr shock. As you've probably guessed. the shocks were Phony, and the “pupil” was a confederate of the experimenter. Only the “teacher” was a real subject The Politics of Social Researdi I T] in the experiment. As a subject. you wouldn't actually have been hurting another person, but you would have been led to think you were. The experiment was designed to test your willingness to follow orders to the point of presnmably killing someone. I" ‘ Milgrarn’s experiments have been criticized both methodologically and ethically. On the ethical side. critics have particularly cited the efiects of the experiment on the subjects. Many seemed to have experienced personally about as much pain as they thought they were administering to someone else. They pleaded with the experimenter to let them stop giving the shocks. They became extremely up- set and nervous. Some had uncontrollable seizures. How do you feel about this research? Do you think the topic was important enough to justin such measures? Would debriefing the subjects be sufficient to ameliorate any possible harm? Can you think of other ways the researcher might have examined obedience? There is a wealth of dismssion regarding the Milgram experiments on the web. Search for 'Milgram experiments,” “human obedience experi- ments,” or “Stanley Milgram.’ The Politics of Social Research As I indicated earlier, both ethics and politics hinge on ideological points of view, What is unacceptable from one point of view will be acceptable from another. Although political and ethical issues are often closely intertwined, 1 want to distinguish between them in two ways. First, the ethics of social research deals mostly with the methods employed; political issues tend t0» center on the Substance and use of research. Thus, for example, some critics raise ethical objections to the Milgram experiments. saying that the methods harm the subjects. A political objection would be that obedience is not a suitable topic for study. ei- ther because (1) we should not tinker with people's willingness to follow orders from higher authority or (2), from the opposite political point of view, because the results of the research Could be used to make people more obedient. 78 I Chapter 3: The Ethics and Politics of Social Research The second distinction between the ethical and political aspects of social research is that there are no formal codes of accepted political conduct. Al- though some ethical norms have political aspects—— for example, specific guidelines for not harming subjects clearly relate to Western ideas about the protection of civil liberties—no one has developed a set of political norms that all social researchers accept. The only partial exception to the lack of politi- cal norms is the generally accepted view that a resea rcher's personal political orientation should not interfere with or unduly influence his or her scientific research. It would be considered improper for a researcher to use shoddy techniques or to distort or lie about his or her research as a way of furthering the researcher’s political views. As you can imagine, however, studies are often enough attacked for allegedly violating this norm. Objectivity and Ideology In Chapter 1, lsuggested that social research cart never be totally objective, because researchers are human and therefore necessarily subjective. As a collective enterprise, science achieves the equiva- lent of objectivity through intersubjectivity. That is, different scientists, having different subjective views, can and should arrive at the same results when they employ accepted research techniques. Essentially, this will happen to the extent that each can set personal values and views aside for the duration of the research. The classic statement on objectivity and neutrality in social science is Max Weber's lecture “Science as a Vocation" ([1925] 1946). In this talk, Weber coined the phrase value-flee sociology and urged that sociology, like other sciences, needed to be unencumbered by personal values if it were to make a special contribution to society. Liberals and conservatives alike could recognize the “facts” of social science, regardless of how those facts ac- corded vvith their personal politics. Most social researchers have agreed with this abstract ideal, but not all. Marxist and neo-Marxist scholars, for example, have argued that social sci- ence and social action cannot and should not be separated. Explanations of the status quo in society, they contend, shade subtly into defenses of that same status quo. Simple explanations of the social functions of, say, discrimination can easily become justifications for its continuance. By the same token, merely studying society and its ills without a commitment to making society more humane has been called irresponsible. In Chapter 10, we'll examine participatory action research, which is explicitly committed to using social research for purposes designed and valued by the subjects of the research. Thus, for example, researchers committed to improving the working conditions for workers at a factory would ask the workers to define the outcomes they would like to see and to have a hand in conducting social research relevant to achieving the desired ends. The role of the researchers is to ensure that the workers have access to professional research methods. Quite aside from abstract disagreements about whether social science can or should be value- free, many have argued about whether particular research undertakings are value—free or whether they represent an intrusion of the researcher’s own political values. Typically, researchers have denied such intrusion, and their denials have then been challenged. Let's look at some eXamples of the controversies this issue has produced. Social Research and Race Nowhere have social research and politics been more controversially intertwined than in the area of racial relations. Social researchers studied the topic for a long time, and the products of the social research have often found their way into practical politics. A few brief references should illustrate the point. In 1896, when the US. Supreme Court established the principle of “separate but equal" as a means of reconciling the Fourteenth Amend- ment's guarantee of equality to African Americans with the norms of segregation, it neither asked for nor cited social research. Nonetheless, it is widely believed that the Court was influenced by the writ- ings of William Graham Sumner, a leading social scientist of his era. Sumner was noted for his view that the mores and folkways of a society were rela- tively impervious to legislation and social planning. His view has often been paraphrased as "stateways do not make folkways.’ Thus, the Court ruled that it could not accept the assumption that “social prejudices may be overcome by legislation" and denied the wisdom of “laws which conflict with the general sentiment of the community” (Blaunstein and Zangrando 1970: 308). As many a politician has said, “You can’t legislate morality.” When the doctrine of “separate but equal” was overturned in 1954 (Broom v. Board of Education), the new Supreme Court decision was based in part on the conclusion that segregation had a detrimen- tal effect on African American children. in drawing that conclusion, the Court cited several sociological and psychological research reports (Blaunstein and Zangrando I970). For the most part, social researchers in this century have supported the cause of African American equality in the United States, and their convictions often have been the impetus for their research. Moreover, they've hoped that their research will lead to social change. There is no doubt, for example, that Gunnar Myrdal's classic two-volume study (1944) of race relations in the United States had a significant impact on the topic of his research. Myrdal amassed a great deal of data to show that the position of African Americans directly contradicted U.S. values of social and politi- cal equality. Further, Myrdal did not attempt to hide his own point of view in the matter. (You can pursue Myrdal’s landmark research further online by searching for “Gunnar Myrdal" or "An Ameri- can Dilemma”) Many social researchers have become directly involved in the civil rights movement, some more radically than others. Given the broad support for ideals of equality, research conclusions supporting the cause of equality draw little or no criticism. T0 recognize how solid the general social science position is in this matter, we need only examine a few research projects that have produced conclu- sions disagreeing with the predominant ideological position. Most social researchers have—overtly, at 1Ease—supported the end of school segregation. Thus, an immediate and heated controversy arose Tne Politics of Social Research - 79 in 1966 when James Coleman, a respected sociolo- gist, published the results of a major national study of race and education. Contrary to general agree- ment, Coleman found little difference in academic performance between African American students attending integrated‘s’chools and those attending «segregated ones. Indeed, such obvious things as li- braries, laboratory facilities, and high expenditures per student made little difference. Instead, Cole- man reported that family and neighborhood factors had the most influence on academic achievement. Coleman’s findings were not well received by many of the social researchers who had been active in the civil rights movement. Some scholars criti- cized Coleman’s work on methodological grounds, but many others objected hotly on the grounds that the findings would have segregationist political consequences. The controversy that raged around the Coleman report was reminiscent of that pro- voked a year earlier by Daniel Moynihan (1965) in his critical analysis of the African American family in the United States. Whereas some felt Moynihan was blaming the victims, others objected to his tracing those problems to the legacy of slavery. Another example of political controversy sur- rounding social research in connection with race concerns IQ scores. In I969, Arthur Jensen, a Har- vard psychologist, was asked to prepare an article for the Harvard Educational Review examining the data on racial differences in IQ test results (Jensen 1969). In the article, Jensen concluded that genetic differences between African Americans and whites accounted for the lower average 10 scores of Afri— can Americans. Jensen became so identified with that position that he appeared on college campuses across the country discussing it. Jensen‘s research has been attacked on turmer- ous methodological bases. Critics charged that much of the data on which Jensen's conclusion was based were inadequate and sloppy—there are many IQ tests, some worse than others. Similarly, it. was argued that Jensen had not taken social—en— vironmental factors sufficiently into account. Other social researchers raised still other methodological objections. Beyond the scientific critique, however, many condemned Jensen as a racist. Hostile crowds 80 I Chapter 3: The Ethics and Politics of Social Research booed him, drowning out his public presentations. Ironically, Jensen’s reception by several univer- sity audiences did not differ significantly from the reception received by abolitionists over a century before, when the prevailing opinion favored leav~ ing the institution of slavery intact. Many social researchers limited their objections to the Moynihan, Coleman, and Jensen research to scientific, methodological grounds. The politi- cal firestorms ignited by these studies, however, point out how ideology often shows up in matters of social research. Although the abstract model of science is divorced from ideology, the practice of science is not. To examine a more recent version of the con- troversy Surrounding race and achievement, search the web for differing points of view concerning "The Bell Curve”—sparked by a book with that title by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray. The controversies relating to research and race are hardly over at present, as we saw in the Chap- ter 2 discussion of critical race theory. The Politic of S exuai Research As 1 indicated earlier, the Laud Humphreys study of tearoom trade raised ethical issues that researchers still discuss and debate. At the same time, it seems clear that much of the furor raised by the research was related to the subject matter itself. As I have written elsewhere, Laud Humphreys didn't just study S-E-X but observed and discussed homosexuality. And it wasn't even the caring-and-committed- relationships-between-two-people-who-just- happen—to-be-of-the-sarne-sex homosexuality but tawdry encounters between strangers in public toilets. Only adding the sacrifice of Christian babies could have made this more inflammatory for the great majority of Ameri- cans in 1970. (Bobbie 2004: LE) Whereas Htunphreys' research topic proved unusually provocative for many, much tamer sexuality research has also engendered outcries of publichorror. During the 19405 and 19505, the biologist Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues published landmark studies of sexual practices of American men (1948) and women ( i953). Kinsey's extensive interviewing allowed him to report on frequency of sexual activity, premarital and extramarital sex, homosexual behavior, and so forth. His studies produced public outrage and efforts to close his research institute at Indiana University. Although today most people no longer get worked up about the Kinsey reports, Americans tend to remain touchy about research on sex. In 1987, the National Institutes of Health (NHi), charged with finding ways to combat the AIDS epidemic, found they needed hard data on con- temporary scxual practices if they were to design effective anti-AIDS programs. Their request for research proposals resulted in a sophisticated study design by Edward O. Laumann and colleagues. The proposed study focused on the different patterns of sexual activity characterizing different periods of life, and it received rave reviews from the NIH and their consultants. Enter Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) and Congressman William Dannemeyer (R-Cali- fornia). In 1989, having learned of the Laumann study, Helms and Dannemeyer began a campaign to block the study and shift the same amount of money to a teen celibacy program. Anne Fausto- Sterling, a biologist, sought to understand the op- position to the Laumann study. The surveys, Helms argued, are not really intended "to stop the spread of AIDS. The real purpose is to compile supposedly scientific facts to support the left-wing liberal argument that homosexuality is a normal, acceptable life-style. . . . As long as I am able to stand on the floor of the US. Senate," he added, “1 am never going to yield to that sort of thing, because it is not just another life-style: it is sodomy.” (Fauna-Sterling i992) Helms won a 66—34 vote in favor of his amend— ment in the US. Senate. Although the House of RepresentatiVes rejected the amendment, and it was dropped in conference committee, government funding for the study was put on hold. Laumann and his colleagues then turned to the private sector and obtained funding, albeit for a smaller study, from private foundations. Their research results were published in 1994 as The Social Organization of Sexuality. Politics and the Census There is probably a political dimension to every attempt to study human social behavior. Consider the matter of the us. decennial census, mandated by the Constitution. The original purpose was to discover the population sizes of the various states to determine their proper representation in the House of Representatives. Whereas each state gets two senators, large states get more representatives than small ones do. So what could be simpler? Just count the number of people in each state. From the beginning, there was nothing simple about counting heads in a dispersed, national pop- ulation like the United States. Even the definition of a “person” was anything but straightforward. A slave, for example, counted as only three- fifths of a person for purposes of the census. This decreased the representation of the slaveholding Southern states, though counting slaves as whole people might have raised the dangerously radiscal idea that they should be allowed to vote. Further, the logistical problems of counting people who reside in suburban tract houses, urban apartments, college dorms, military barracks, farms, cabins in the wOods, and illegal housing units, as well as counting those who have no place to live, has always presented a daunting task. It's the sort of challenge social researchers tackle with relish. However, the difficulty of finding the hard- to-rcach and the techniques created for doing so cannot escape the political net. Kenneth Prewitt, who directed the Census Bureau from 1998 to 2001, describes some of the political aspects of counting heads: Between 1910 and 1920, there was a massive wartime population movement from the rural, Southern states to industrial Northern cities. In 1920, for the first time in American history, the The Politits of Social Research I 81 census included more city dwellers than rural residents. An urban America was something new and disturbing, especially to those who held to the Jeffersonian belief that independent farmers best protected democracy. Among those of this [Ersuasion were rural, conserva- tive congressmen in the South and West. They saw that reapportionment would shiit power to factory-based unions and politically radical immigrants concentrated in Northeastern cities. Conservatives in Congress blocked reappor- tionment, complaining among other things that because January 1 was then census day, transient agricultural workers were “incor- rectly” counted in cities rather than on the farms to which they would return in time for spring planting. (Census day was later shifted to April 1, where it has remained.) The arguments dragged out for a decade, and Congress was not reapportioned until after the next census. (Prewitt 2003) in more recent years, concern for undercounting the urban poor has become a political issue. The big cities, which have the most to lose from the un- dercounting, typically vote Democratic rather than Republican, so you can probably guess which party supports eiforts to improve the counting and which party is less enthusiastic. By the same token, when social scientists have argued in favor of replacing the attempt at a total enumeration of the popula- tion with modern survey sampling methods (see Chapter 7), they have enjoyed more support from Democrats, who would stand to gain from such a methodological shift, than from Republicans, who would stand to lose. Rather than suggesting Democrats support science more than Republicans do, this situation offers another example of how the political context in which we live and conduct social research often affects that research. Politics with a Little “p” Social research is often confounded by political ide- ologies, but the “politics” of social research runs far deeper still. Social research in relation to contested 82 I Chapter 3: The Ethics and Politics of Social Raearch social issues simply cannot remain antiseptically objective—particularly when differing ideologies are pitted against each other in a field of social sci- ence data. The same is true when research is invoked in diSputes between people with conflicting interests. For instance, social researchers who have served as “expert witnesses” in court would probably agree that the scientific ideal of a “search for truth” seems hopelessly naive in a trial or lawsuit. Although expert witnesses technically do not represent either side in court, they are, nonetheless, engaged by only one side to appear, and their testimony tends to support the side of the party who pays for their time. This doesn't necessarily mean that these wit- nesses will lie on behalf of their patrons, but the contenders in a lawsuit are understandably more likely to pay for expert testimony that supports their case than for testimony that attacks it. Thus, as an expert witness, you appear in court only because your presumably scientific and honest judgment happens to coincide with the interests of the party paying you to testify. Once you arrive in court and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the tnith, however, you find your- self in a world foreign to the ideals of objective con- templation. Suddenly, the norms are those of Win- ning and 105mg. As an expert witness, of course, all you have to lose is your respectability (and perhaps the chance to earn fees as an expert witness in the future). Still, such stakes are high enough to create discomfort for most social researchers. I recall one case in federal court when I was testifying on behalf of some civil service workers who had had their cost-of-living allowance (COLA) cut on the basis of research I thought was rather shoddy. I was engaged to conduct more “scientific” research that would demonstrate the injustice worked against the civil servants (Babbie 1982:232-43). I took the stand, feeling pretty much like a respected professor and textbook author. In short order. however, I found I had moved from the academy to the hockey rink. Tests of statistical significance and sampling error Were suddenly less relevant than a slap shot. At one point, an attorney from Washington lured me into casually agree- ing that I was familiar with a certain professional journal. Unfortunately, the journal did not exist. I was mortified and suddenly found myself shifting domains. Without really thinking about it, I now was less committed to being a friendly Mr. Chips and more aligned with ninja-professor. I would not be fully satisfied until I, in turn, could mortify the attorney, which I succeeded in doing. Even though the civil servants got their cost- of-living allowance back, I have to admit I was also concerned with how I looked in front of the courtroom assemblage. I tell you this anecdote to illustrate the personal “politics” of human interac- tions involving presumably scientific and objective research. We need to realize that as human beings social researchers are going to act like human beings, and we musr take this into aceount in as- sessing their findings. This recognition does not invalidate their research or provide an excuse for rejecting findings we happen to dislike, but it does need to be taken into account. Politics in Perspective Although the ethical and the political dimensions of research are in principle distinct, they do intersect. Whenever politicians or the public feel that social research is violating ethical or moral standards. they'll be quick to respond with remedies of their own. Moreover, the standards they defend may not be those of the research community. Even when researchers support the goals of measures directed at the way research is done, the means specified by regulations or legislation can hamstring research. Legislators show special concern for research on children. Although the social research norms discussed in this chapter would guard against bringing any physical or emotional harm to chil- dren, some of the restrictive legislation introduced from time to time borders on the actions of one particular western city, which shall remain name— less. In response to concerns that a public school teacher had been playing New Age music in class and encouraging students to meditate, the city council passed legislation stating that no teacher could do anything that would “affect the minds of Students”! In recent years, the “politicization of science” has become a particularly hot topic, with charges flung from both sides of the political spectrum. On the one hand, renewed objections to the teach— ing of evolution have coupled with demands for the teaching of Intelligent Design (replacing Cre- ationism). In many of these regards, science is seen as a threat to religiously-based views, and scientists are sometimes accused of an antireligious agenda. On the other hand, a statement by the Union of Concerned Scientists (2005), cosigned by thou~ sands of scientists, illustrates the concern that the concentration of political power in the hands of one party can threaten the independent functioning of scientific research: The United States has an impressive history of investing in scientific research and respecting the independence of scientists. As a result, we have enjoyed sustained economic progress and public health, as well as unequaled leader- ship within the global scientific community. Recent actions by political appointees, however, threaten to undermine this legacy by prevent- ing the best available science from informing policy decisions that have serious consequences for our health, safety, and environment. Across a broad range of issues—’from child- hood lead poisoning and mercury emissions to climate change, reproductive health, and nuclear weapons—political appointees have distorted and censored scientific findings that contradict established policies. In some cases, they have manipulated the underlying science to align results with predetermined political decisions. I hope you take away four main lessons from this discussion. First, science is not untouched by politics. The intrusion of politics and related ideolo— gies is not unique to social research; the natural sci- ences have experienced and continue to experience similar intrusions. But social science is particularly linked to social life. Social researchers study things that matter to people—things that people have The Politics of Social Research I 83 firm, personal feelings about and that affect their lives. Moreover, researchers are human beings, and their feelings often surface in their professional fives. To think otherwise would be naive. A Second, science maTnages to proceed in the midst of political controversy and hostility. Even when researchers get angry and call each other names, or when the research community comes under attack from the outside, scientific inquiry persists. Studies are done, reports are published, and new things are learned. In short, ideological disputes do not bring science to a halt, but they do make it more challenging—and exciting. Third, an aWareness of ideological consid- erations enriches the study and practice of so- cial research methods. Many of the established characteristics of science, such as intersubjectivity, function to cancel out or hold in check our human shortcomings, especially those we are unaware of. Otherwise, we might look into the world and never see anything but a reflection of our personal biases and beliefs. Finally, whereas researchers should not let their own values interfere with the quality and honesty of their research, this does not mean that research- ers cannot or should not participate in public debates and express both their scientific expertise and personal values. You can do scientifically excellent research on racial prejudice, all the while being opposed to prejudice and saying so. Some would argue that social scientists, because of their scientific expertise in the workings of society, have an obligation to speak out, rather than leaving that role to politicians, journalists, and talk-show hosts. Herbert Gans (2002) writes of the need for “public sociologists”: A public sociologist is a public intellectual who applies sociological ideas and findings to social (defined broadly) issues about which sociol- ogy (also defined broadly) has something to say. Public intellectuals comment on whatever issues show up on the public agenda; public sociologists do so only on issues to which they can apply their sociological insights and findings. 84 I Chapter 3: the Ethics and Politics of Social Researdi EMAIN POINTS: Introduction 0 In addition to technical, scientific considerations, so- cial research projects are likely to be shaped by ad- ministrative, ethical, and political considerations. Ethical Issues in Social Research 0 What is ethical and unethical in research is ulti- mately a matter of what a community of people agree is right and wrong. I Researchers agree that participation in research should normally be voluntary. This norm, however, can conflict with the scientific need for generalizability. 0 Researchers agree that research should not harm those who participate in it, unless they give their informed consent, thereby willingly and know— ingly accepting the risks of ham. 0 Whereas anonymity refers to the situation in which even the researcher cannot identify specific information with the individuals it describes. confidentiality refers to the situation in which the researcher promises to keep information about subjects private. The most straightforward way to ensure confidentiality is to destroy identifying information as soon as it's no longer needed. 0 Many research designs involve a greater or leSSer degree of deception of subjects. Because deceiv- ing people violates common standards of ethical behavior, deception in research requires a strong justification—and even then thejustification may be challenged. a Social researchers have ethical obligations to the community of researchers as well as to subjects. These obligations include reporting results fully and accurately as well as disclosing errors, limita— tions, and other shortcomings in the research. 0 Professional associations in several disciplines publish codes of ethics to guide researchers. These codes are necessary and helpful, but they do not resolve all ethical questions. "Nvo Ethical Controversies - laud Humphreys' study of ‘tearoom" encounters and Stanley Milgram's study of obedience raise ethical issues that are debated to this day. The Politics of Social Research 0 Social research inevitably has a political and ideolog- ical dimension. Although science is neutral on po- litical matters, scientists are not. Moreover, much social research inevitably involves the political beliefs of people outside the research community. 0 Although most researchers agree that political ori- entation should not unduly influence research, in practice separating politics and ideology from the conduct of research can be quite difficult. Some researchers maintain that research can and should be an instrument of social action and change. More subtly, a shared ideology can affect the way other researchers receive one’s research. 0 Even though the norms of science cannot force individual researchers to give up their personal values, the intersubjective character of science provides a guard against scientific findings being the product of bias only. ‘ grey “Mai—E The following terms are defined in context in the chapter and at the bottom of the page where the term is introduced, as well as in the comprehensive glossary at the back of the book. anonymity debriefing confidentiality informed consent gILOPOSIHG SOCIAL“ ESEARCHrETHICAL [55053 If you are actually proposing a research project, you may be required to submit your proposal to your campus Institutional Review Board (IRE). In that case, you will need to inform yourself as to the forms and procedures involved locally. The key concern here is the protection of research subjects: avoiding harm, safeguarding their privacy, and the other such topics discussed in this chapter. In this section of the proposal, you will discuss the ethical risks involved in your study and the steps you will take to avoid them. Perhaps you will prepare forms to insure that subjects are aware of and give idiom/ted consent to the risks attendant on their partici- pation. The terms “anonymous” and/or “confidential” are likely to appear in your discussion. tnrwrw QUESUOHSQQJ rigorousE I. Consider the following real and hypothetical research situations. What is the ethical component in each example? How do you feel about it? Do you think the procedures described are ultimately acceptable or unacceptable? You might find discussing some of these situations with class- mates useful. a. A psychology instructor asks students in an introductory psychology class to complete questionnaires that the instructor will analyze and use in preparing a journal article f0r publication. b. After a field study of deviant behavior during4 a riot, law enforcement officials demand that the researcher identify those people who were observed looting. Rather than risk arrest as an accomplice after the fact, the researcher complies. c. After completing the final draft of a book reporting a research project, the researcher- author discovers that 25 of the 2,000 survey interviews were falsified by interviewers. To protect the bulk of the research, the author leaves out this information and publishes the book. (1. Researchers obtain a list of right-wing radicals they wish to study. They contact the radicals with the explanation that each has been selected “at random" from among the general population to take a sampling of “public opinion." e. A college instructor who wants to test the effect of unfair berating administers an hour exam to both sections of a specific course. The overall performance of the two sections 3 is essentially the same. The grades of one sec- tion are artificially lowered, however, and the instructor berates the students for perform- ing so badly. The instructor then administers the same final exam to both sections and discovers that the performance of the unfairly berated section is worse. The hypothesis is confirmed, and the research report is published. f. In a study of sexual behavior, the investiga- tor wants to overcome subjects’ reluctance to report what they might regard as shameful behavior. To get past their reluctance, subjects are asked, “Everyone masturbates now and then; about how much do you masturbate?” g. A researcher studying dorm life on campus discovers that 60 percent of the residents regularly violate restrictions on alcohol con- sumption. Publication of this finding would probably create a furor in the campus com- munity. Because no extensive analysis of SPSS Exercises I 85 alcohol use is planned, the researcher decides to keep this finding quiet. h. To test the extent to which people may try to save face by expressing attitudes on mat— ters they are wholly uninformed about, the researclgasks‘ for their attitudes regarding a fictitious issue. i. A research questionnaire is circulated among students as part of their university registration packet. Although students are not told they must complete the questionnaire, the hope is that they will believe they must—thus ensur— ing a higher completion rate. j. A researcher pretends tojoin a radical political group in order to study it and is successfully accepted as a member of the inner planning circle. What should the researcher do if the group makes plans for the following? (1} A peaceful, though illegal, demonstration (2) The bombing of a public building during a time it is sure to be unoccupied (3) The assassination of a public official Review the discussion of the Milgram experiment on obedience. How would you design a study to accomplish the same purpose while avoiding the ethical criticisms leveled at Milgram? Would your design be equally valid? Would it have the same effect? Suppose a researcher who is personally in favor of small families—as a reSponse to the problem of overpopulation—wants to conduct a survey to determine why some people want many children and others don't. What personal-involvement problems would the researcher face, and how could she or he avoid them? What ethical issues should the researcher take into account in design- ing the survey? Using InfoTrac College Edition, search for “in- formed content” and then narrow your search to “research.” Skim the resulting articles and begin to identify groups of people for whom informed consent may be problematicmpeople who may not be able to give it. Suggest some ways in which the problem might be overcome. ESPSS EXERCISES: See the booklet that accompanies your text for exercises using SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences). There are exercises offered for each chapter, and you'll also find a detailed primer on using SPSS. ‘g'. 86 I Chapter 3: The Ethics and Politis of Social Research Online Study Resources if your book came with an access code card. visit www.cengagecomllogin to register. To purchase ac- cess, please visit www.ichapters.com. 1. Before you do your final review of the chapter, take the CengageNOW pretest to help identify the areas on which you should concentrate. You‘ll find information on this online tool, as well as instructions on how to access all of its great re- sources, in the front DI the book. As you review, take advantage of the CengageNOW personalized study plan, based on your quiz results. Use this study plan with its interactive ex- ercises and other resources to master the material. 3. When you’re finished with your review. take the posttest to confirm that you're ready to move on to the next chapter. WEBSITE FOR THE PRACTICE OF SOCIAL RESEARCH 12TH EDITION Go to your book's website at www.cengagecornl sociology/babble for tools to aid you in studying for your exams. You'll find Tutorial Quizzes with leedback, Internet Exercises, Flash Cards, Glossaries, and Essay Quizzes, as well as InfoTrac College Edition search terms, suggestions [or additional reading, Web Links, and primers for using data-analysis software such as SPSS. ...
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