Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

Archive forNovember 10th, 2003 | back to home

10 November 2003
Filed under:Academia,Weblogs at11:40 am

Weekly INCITE comes from ten researchers and PhD students at the “Incite centre”:http://www.soc.surrey.ac.uk/incite/index.htm at “University of Surrey’s Sociology department”:http://www.soc.surrey.ac.uk.

Recently one of them expressed concerns about “providing the raw data from academic research”:http://www.weeklyincite.blogspot.com/2003_10_26_weeklyincite_archive.html#106760924917923058 for others to analyse. It seems to me fundamental to the whole nature of the academic enterprise that raw data should be as widely available as possible. There is always the risk that people will take your data and interpret it in ways that you don’t agree with but one answer to this is to ensure that the data’s creator(s) are notified whenever the data is downloaded and/or republished. That way if you disagree with the new analysis you can present a counter-analysis of your own and/or point out any methodological issues in your research that make the interpretation given untenable.

There is also the question of whether research subjects should also be re-notified somehow every time the data is re-used. I suppose that would be ideal ethically but might make it practically impossible to use the data. I suggest the best course is full disclosure – something like this: ‘you will not be personally identifiable from this research and I intend to use it to do X but the anonymous data will also be made available to other academics who may do their own analysis.’ I wonder how often this is done at present?

It seems there is a larger question behind this issue – if the whole truth about a study could be damaging to an already disadvantaged group is it right to suppress the damaging information? Is an academic’s highest duty to do good science or to do good (as she or he sees it)? I guess I have absorbed enough of the values of the journalist to try to tell the whole truth first (including providing all your findings) then provide your own interpretation.

In the long run your ideological opponents will likely eventually do their own research and discover the facts you have omitted, putting their own spin on them and devaluing what you have produced. My gut feeling is you should get all the facts out in the open and get your retaliation in first!

“PC Support Advisor”:http://www.pcsupportadvisor.com/ has provided “free downloadable sample guidelines”:http://www.pcsupportadvisor.com/sasample/M0228.pdf for employee Internet use. Though they are fine as a starting point I would recommend tailoring them to your own circumstances and adding a clause warning that agreements entered into by email can often be binding so don’t discuss contracts with outside organizations if you are not authorised to make final decisions.