Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Woes of Internet Research

When I think internet I think panopticon; however, instead of there being a single point of view from which all parts are visible there are multiple.

It is this multi-angled view, a characteristic of the internet, that impacts the way in which researchers deal with human subjects.

What is private or public behaviour?
When can/does covert observation take place?

The "common rule" a federal regulation involved with "the protection of human subjects" proves to serve as the primary source of problematic issues related to internet research. It is as such because of the inherent ambiguity in definition of the public and the private on the internet.

The blurred boundaries of that which is private and that which is public affect the process of informed consent, the assesment of risks involved, and the protocol a research project must establish in protecting the privacy of an individual with regards to their rights to personal privacy and the confidentiality of the data which they provide.

In essence, the basic ethical principles, as described in the "Belmont Report", come into question when utilizing the internet, especially with regards to "respect for persons" and "beneficence" as described in the aforementioned. It is as such simply because the internet was not accounted for during the development of the Belmont document.

1 comment:

  1. To continue the exchange...

    First, thanks for the comment you left me. The point you raise about measuring the truth value of an individual's response is vital, and I wished I had mentioned it myself. When this topic appears—the idea of gauging the accuracy of response— usually I am reminded of the 2008 NH primary. Polls, pundits, and instruments were wrong: they had *measured* inaccurately for an Obama win. The competing explanation was that perhaps the sample had *responded* inaccurately—they had deceived the pollsters.

    This leads me to your reflection on private and public space. Those sections in the modules were, at the very minimum, provocative, especially the pieces that speak of deception in the public sphere. I was surprised to find the IRB standardizing (with little reservation) the intentional deception by the researcher of the sample subjects. Interestingly, neither the Belmont Report nor the IRB test attempt to describe deception working the other way—subject to researcher. I can't believe that the reason for this omission is that they haven't thought of it themselves.

    Finally, to swing back to the example of the NH Primaries, there could be a third explanation for all the apparent contradictions—time. People could have changed their minds, even in 24 to 12 hours.

    Most instruments/systems measure change over time. Once that operation is pluralized, problems arise. "Changes over times" keep biting and scratching, refusing to stand still and be counted.