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ethical inquiry response part 1

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  • Popplestone, Ann
    Finals are over now, so I can do a little analysis. I ve gotten the most interesting reactions to my ethical inquiry of April 17. I posted the identical
    Message 1 of 1 , May 19, 1999
      Finals are over now, so I can do a little analysis.

      I've gotten the most interesting reactions to my "ethical inquiry " of
      April 17.

      I posted the identical inquiry (for the record, re-printed below) to
      Anthro-L and to SACC-L (Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges).
      The responses broke down in several ways:

      2 brief replies said that the procedure described would be sound ethically.

      1 respondent said the idea was sound, but cautioned that themes and patterns
      were more likely to come out of the observation than were "truth[s]"

      1 said that "lurking" (Internet slang for reading but not participating) was
      OK and made a comparison to a student going to a homeless shelter and
      observing with a "don't ask, don't tell" approach. A second reader called
      that "sophistry".

      1 correctly advised me that the Hawthorne effect was a better social-science
      reference than was the Heisenberg
      principle while a second disputed the reality of the Hawthorne effect.

      2 different readers questioned whether the observed list participants would
      care if the observer was there or not (see above).

      2 readers approved of bringing up the ethical question . One of those made
      suggestions about how to explicitly incorporate ethical training into the
      class .

      1 respondent wanted to know why I was bothering and suggested using HRAF.

      4 readers thought I was referring to lurking on Anthro-L specifically.

      3 mis-understood the original post, at least to some degree (I'm not sure if
      that was entirely my fault or not, but it reminded me to be careful when it
      comes time to instruct the students on procedures).

      1 of those thought I was asking whether or not I should lurk on a list set
      up for the students.

      1 thought I was intending to lurk on the same list(s) as the students.

      1 thought I meant to collect Anthro-L data and professionally publish it. I
      got a somewhat stern warning about getting permission to quote, with or
      without identifiers

      2 readers offered technical suggestions. 1 suggested using the archives
      while a second suggested using newsgroups and chat
      Here is the original inquiry:

      I am working with a less-computer-literate colleague to design a
      sophomore-level Cultural field work course where the students will be
      required to subscribe to a number of e-mail lists and report on their
      observations of dialogue patterns, folkways, communication rituals etc.
      My question is this:
      It is certainly possible to "lurk" on a list and observe without the
      participants being aware that the researcher is there, or at least not aware
      that they are being researched. Would it be considered ethical for an
      anthropologist/student to do so? Or does good professional conduct require
      the researcher to "come out of the closet?"
      This type of research is one of the few cases where an anthropologist has
      some chance of not tripping over the Heisenberg principle.
      Students will be instructed to identify themselves to the list moderator if
      they have to go through an application process and to identify themselves if
      they post inquiries, but is it acceptable for a researcher to withhold
      information while observing on an automated list?
      The students will be instructed to protect their subjects' privacy by
      removing identifying details from posts included in the final write-up.
      Thanks in advance.

      Ann Popplestone
      Cuyahoga Community College
      Cleveland OH USA

      part 2, which follows, is my further pot-stirring on the matter.......
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