RESEARCH ETHICS AND LEGAL ISSUES Professor Charles Oppenheim – 25 October 2011WHAT ARE ETHICS? Moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity The “activity” to be focussed on is undertaking a research project This handout focuses on some ethical and legal issues associated with LIS research Much may seem like a teaching a grandmother how to suck eggs; but I’m surprised by the number of student projects/articles I’ve been asked to referee that break some of the guidelinesISSUES TO CONSIDER Confidentiality Questionnaires and interviews Plagiarism and other forms of cheating Getting published Data Protection FoI Of course, there are lots of other legal and ethical issues that might arise…….
CONFIDENTIALITY/ANONYMITY Remind participants that their answers will be kept confidential and will not be attributed to any individual or organisation (except in those cases where they explicitly agree to be named) Confidentiality doesn’t just apply to individuals but also to organisations Unless an organisation has agreed to be named, you should respect its confidentiality – and don’t make it easy for the reader to identify it (e.g., “a well known high street retailer whose trade mark is St. Michael”) You may have to sign a confidentiality or a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Incidentally, it is courteous to send a copy of the final research report to anyone who participated and who has expressed an interest in itQUESTIONNAIRES AND INTERVIEWS Best not to send out a questionnaire or conduct an interview without checking contents/interview schedule with someone else first! Pilot studies are strongly recommended Need to think carefully, and understand, about the pros and cons of various sampling techniques and analysing the results to draw conclusionsIT’S IMPORTANT! Muck it up, and you’ve wasted your and other people’s time; badly designed questions, an arrogant style or poor grammar/spelling will annoy people and may well lead to a low response rate Make sure any covering note is polite and appropriate
QUESTIONNAIRES & INTERVIEWS Stress to participants they can withdraw or refuse to answer specific questions at any time. If you want to tape record, ask for permission first. Don’t DEMAND that they see you or that they reply to your questionnaire. In my view – not shared by everyone – it is not appropriate to give them a deadline to reply by Need to think carefully before sending out remindersASSESSING KNOWLEDGE Testing people (“what is the lifetime of copyright for an unpublished manuscript?”) can insult them Asking people to rate their knowledge (“very knowledgeable, knowledgeable, know a little, I know nothing”) might tempt them to lie. Overall, difficult to get a totally reliable way of assessing knowledge Nonetheless, the questionnaire issued by DREaM tries to do that in assessing your knowledge of research techniques!APPOINTMENTS Set clear time and date, and venue Never be late or fail to keep appointment without warning them Switch off your mobile when you enter the organisation’s premises Dress code is normally formal Any discourtesy reflects badly on you, and on your employer
VULNERABLE GROUPS Your work might involve vulnerable individuals, or school children. CRB checks likely if you deal with school kids, or if the research takes place in a school, whether or not children are being studied. This can delay start of research, so time elapsed needs to be factored in. Special care is needed when dealing with vulnerable people, including elderly, ill, criminals, drug users, etc.PLAGIARISM Deliberate or accidental presentation of another’s words/images/ideas as one’s own Implication of an intent (perhaps subconscious) to deceive It might involve infringement of copyright and of Moral Rights Moral Rights include the Paternity Right (the right to be identified as the author of a piece) Infringement of copyright occurs if you copy a substantial part of someone else’s copyright work without permission Infringement of copyright, or of Moral Rights can lead to you being sued for damages So you can get sued for copying the text and sued separately for failing to provide the original author’s nameHOW TO AVOID PLAGIARISM Use quotation marks when quoting directly, together with an appropriate reference
Paraphrase the text you are using without quotation marks, but still cite the referenceOTHER TYPES OF CHEATING Fabricating results Adjusting results to suit your pre-set opinion on how the results should pan out, e.g., ignoring or amending results that don’t fit in A “comprehensive” literature review that ignores contrary evidenceGETTING PUBLISHED Give credit where credit is due by means of co-authorship and/or acknowledgements at end; don’t ignore anyone who gave material assistance If co-authoring, let the co-authors see the draft article/report so they can comment on it Respond promptly and courteously to referees’ comments – even if you think they are rubbish. Be prepared to stand up for your corner if you don’t agree with what a referee says. Moral Rights – a person has the right to object if their name doesn’t appear on something they helped write, and to object if something is written in their name which they did NOT write; they can also object to derogatory treatment of something they wroteDATA PROTECTION No legal right as such to privacy, though Human Rights Act is nowadays a powerful weapon – see, e.g., phone hacking cases; in general, though,
people CAN take CCTV pictures of you, photograph you on the beach, etc., without having to ask your permission Data protection potentially comes into play once they start “processing”, e.g., storing, publishing, disseminating, amending, the material relating to an individual in any wayDATA PROTECTION ACT 1998 The Act ensures that people who handle personal information do so in a professional and appropriate manner, and that they keep individuals informed on what they are doing Based on the eight Data Protection Principles, which everyone handling personal data must abide byDATA PROTECTION PRINCIPLES First – inform each individual that you are collecting information about the person, unless this involves “disproportionate effort”; in typical research projects, this exemption is unlikely to apply, so in general, inform people that you are collecting data about them for your research There is an issue with unobtrusive observational studies. People’s behaviour will be more natural and honest if they don’t know they are being observed or recorded. You need to balance that against the requirement that individuals should be informed data is being collected about them. Best way round is to make all unobtrusive data collection anonymous. Data Protection Act does not apply if no-one can be identified.
Second – you must identify the purposes for which you are collecting the data and let the individuals know this Third - data collected must be relevant, not excessive or too little information. Fourth – data must be accurate and where necessary kept up to date Fifth – hold the data only for as long as it is needed; thus, unless an article is planned based on your work, either destroy the personal data at the end of your research or put anonymised raw data into a data repository, and/or as an appendix to any report/publication. Sixth - must respect individuals’ rights to inspect data collected about them and/or to object to what is being held about them Seventh – adequate technical and organisational measures must be in place to ensure data is not disclosed to unauthorised people, cannot be hacked into, and is not amended, destroyed or copied by third parties; need a judgement on the risks involved and sensitivity of the information; thus, for example, surveys of library usage by drug abusers require more control than general surveys of opinions Eighth – data must not be transferred outside the EEA if the country it is transferred to has inadequate data protection laws – this includes the USA. So do not share data about individuals with overseas colleagues unless you are sure they will protect it properly and/or are subject to sufficiently strong Data Protection laws in their own country. If you fail to abide by any of these, you are breaking the law! Penalties vary from civil offences (sued for damage) to criminal (fines and/or prison
DATA Covers computerised, manual data, CCTV footage, tape recordings….. But must be personal, i.e., is about an identified or identifiable living individual Anonymised data is NOT covered by the Act; data about organisations is also NOT covered (unless organisation is a one man band) Individual can be anywhere in the world; as long as data controller is based in UK, DPA appliesSENSITIVE PERSONAL DATA Racial or ethnic origin; political opinions; religious or similar beliefs; trade union membership; physical or mental health; sex life; commission or alleged commission of criminal offences and related proceedings Can only be processed if deliberately put into public domain by the individual, or if you have got explicit written consent to process it You should not handle such personal data under any other circumstances Could apply, e.g., when looking at provision of LIS services to trade union members, for ethnic minority groups, or for those in prisons or patients in hospitalsFREEDOM OF INFORMATION Applies only to public sector organisations, such as Universities Public has a right to demand to see copies of documents held by that pubic authority
Rather limited exemptions Most research data will be subject to FoI unless it is commercial in confidence (criteria are quite strict for that) or contain personal dataICO’S ADVICE ON FoI AND RESEARCH DATA The public interest test – The guidance highlights the importance of the public interest test and factors in favour of disclosure that should be considered by higher education institutions. Commercial information - Many universities and research institutes work in partnership with third parties and will hold commercially sensitive information. The guidance makes clear that disclosures under FOI should not undermine their ability to do this. If there is a genuine need to protect information from disclosure, an FoI request can be refused. Free and frank discussion – The guidance acknowledges the importance of academics and researchers being able to exchange views internally and to formulate and debate opinions relating to research away from external scrutiny. Protection for this type of information is provided by section 36 of the Act (prejudice to the conduct of public affairs). Vexatious requests - While most requesters use the legislation responsibly, there is occasionally some misuse of the rights provided by the law - or circumstances where requests become overly burdensome; disrupt a public authority’s ability to perform their core functions, or appear to be part of an intention to disrupt or attack the public authority’s performance. The guidance highlights the provisions under FoI that give exceptions to the duty to answer such requests.
Proactive disclosure - One should willingly accept making research data available wherever possible E-mails which contain personal data, e.g., remarks about data subjects or researchers, are subject to the DPA. SEE http://www.ico.gov.uk/news/latest_news/2011/ico-issues-advice- on-the-disclosure-of-research-information-26092011.aspxIF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE…. For research ethics, do a search on Amazon for the topic – hundreds of books available For data protection, I recommend Peter Carey’s Data Protection: A Practical Guide to UK and EU Law (OUP), and Rosemary Jay’s Data Protection Law and Practice (Sweet & Maxwell) - both authoritative and (fairly) readable For FoI, try Peter Carey and Marcus Turle’s Freedom of Information Handbook (The Law Society) Professor Charles Oppenheim email@example.com DREaM Event 2, Edinburgh October 2011