Notes on Babbie Ch 3

GDE Error: Error retrieving file - if necessary turn off error checking (404:Not Found)

Four main constraints on research projects:

  1. scientific
  2. administrative
  3. ethical
  4. political

example: designed a study of law school and passing the bar using a required survey

I. Ethics of social research: norms of what's ethical and what's not

ethical constraints vary. this chapter only ooks at those pertaining to social research.

ethical: "conforming to the standards of conduct of a given profession or group"

anyone in social science research needs to be aware of the general agreements shared by researchers about what is proper and improper in the conduct of scientific inquiry

Ethical agreements in social science research

  1. Voluntary participation
    1. Even when told otherwise, people often believe volunteering will affect them personally
      1. Anonymity ameliorates this
    2. Goes against scientific concerns
      1. Generalizability is threatened
      2. Field studies that could affect social processes
      3. When it's impossible, other ethical concerns become even more important
  2. No harm to participants
    1. Stemmed from Nazi researchers' war crimes and U.S. Tuskegee syphillis experiments
    2. Often this relates to not revealing personal information
      1. Analysis and reporting of data, even when anonymized, can cause trauma
    3. Includes psychological harm also
      1. Stanford prison experiment (Philip Zimbardo)
        1. Terminated the experiment
        2. Created a debriefing program

Voluntary participation and no harm to participants are formalized in the concept of informed consent: A norm in which subjects base
their voluntary participation in research projects on a full understanding of the possible risks involved.

Techniques to protect human subject identity

  1. Anonymity
    1. guaranteed when the researcher can't identify a subject's response
    2. impossible with interviews, possible with mailed surveys
  2. Confidentiality
    1. researcher can connect response to subject, but promises not to do so publicly
    2. courts haven't recognized social research data as privileged communication
      1. Exxon Valdez example: Exxon subpoenaed the survey questionnaires to interrogate at trial
      2. Activist researcher
        1. 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 disclosure
          given to me in the course of my research
          activities. I cannot answer the question without
          actually breaching a confidential communication.
          Consequently, I decline to answer the
          question under my ethical obligations as a
          member of the American Sociological Association
          and pursuant to any privilege that may
          extend to journalists, researchers, and writers
          under the First Amendment.”
          (Scarce 1999: 982)
      3. specific techniques
        1. training in ethical responsibility
        2. remove identifying information
        3. Under section 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 research.
          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 of Health and Human Services 2002)

Anonymity and confidentiality

Because deceiving people is unethical, deception
within social research needs to be justified by compelling
scientific or administrative concerns. Even
then, the justification will be arguable.

Although it’s difficult to conceal that you’re conducting research, it’s usually simple—and sometimes appropriate—to conceal your purpose.

debriefing Interviewing subjects to learn about their experience of participation in the project. Especially important if there’s a possibility that they have been damaged by that participation.

Analysis and reportingEthical obligation to researchers
research should be conducted in a way that promotes the possibility of positive results

Institutional review boards
federally funded research is subject to review
exempt from review:

  1. research in common education settings with normal educational practices
  2. research using educational tests, survey procedures, interviews, or observation of public behavior unless the info is recorded in a way that can make the subjects identifiable or any disclosure of personal info could place the subjects at risk
  3. research using educational tests, survey procedures, interviews, or observation of public behavior if the human subjects are appointed public officials or candidates for public office, or Federal statutes require the confidentiality
  4. Research involving the collection or study of existing data, documents, records, pathological specimens, or diagnostic specimens, if these sources are publicly available or if the information is recorded by the investigator in such a
    manner that subjects cannot be identified, directly
    or through identifiers linked to the subjects
  5. Research and demonstration projects designed to study public benefit programs conducted by or subject to the approval of Department or Agency heads
  6. Taste and food quality evaluation and consumer
    acceptance studies, (i) if wholesome
    foods without additives are consumed or (ii) if a
    food is consumed that contains a food ingredient
    at or below the level and for a use found to
    be safe, or agricultural chemical or environmental
    contaminant at or below the level found
    to be safe, by the Food and Drug Administration
    or approved by the Environmental Protection
    Agency or the Food Safety and Inspection
    Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Professional codes of ethics
Most professional associations have their own codes of ethics.

Two examples of social science research ethics controversies

  • Humphreys's study of homosexual behavior in public restrooms (tracked through license plate numbers); sociological
  • Milgram's study of obedience in lab setting; "following orders;" psychological


II. Social research projects and political considerations

The point is to become sensitive to the political dimension of social research.

Distinction bt ethical and political: ethics deals with methods, while politics deals with the substance and use of research

There are no formal codes of political conduct.

Objectivity and ideology

Science achieves the equivalent of objectivity through intersubjectivity.

Max Weber (1925) "Science as a Vocation" classic statement on objectivity and neutrality in social research: value-free sociology

Marxist and neo-Marxist scholars argue that we shouldn't separate social science and social action-->participatory action research

Social research and race: "You can't legislate morality"

Gunnar Myrdal's "An American Dilemma" showed the plight of African Americans to be counter to the U.S. values of social and political equality.

Although the abstract model of science is divorced from ideology, the practice of science is not.

Politics of sexual research

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 U.S. Senate,” he added, “I am never going to yield to that sort of thing, because it is not just another life-style; it is sodomy.”