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Ethical Issues in Social Inquiry: the Enemy Within? Roger Penn and Keith Soothill Lancaster University The ‘Ethical Turn’ • There is an accelerating tendency to introduce ‘ethical’ issues into all areas of social science. • We consider this to be misguided and misplaced • Indeed we believe this ‘ethical’ agenda is a deliberate attempt to neuter proper social scientific inquiry The ‘Ethical’ Movement • We are not trying to say that social science has no ethical dimension: rather the opposite. • Social science is inherently ethical and political: however these are contested terrains • The new ‘ethics’ movement is designed to remove professional judgments and replace these with bureaucratic codified regimented rules • This involves a systemic de-professionalization and the substitution of low-trust relations for the previous hightrust professional autonomy Why this Development Now? • There is very little external concern about the ethical problems in social science • No obvious scandals [nothing like the Milgram experiments or the ‘Tearoom Trade’ or ‘Pygmalion in the Classroom’ in the USA] • Indeed the opposite is true: social scientists are making little impact on the social world in ways that would upset those in power A Changing World: 3 Elements in the ‘Ethical Turn’ • American Hegemony: there is strong evidence that US templates are being copied in Britain* • New Labour authoritarianism: the Faustian compact. • Natural Science Paradigm: attack on hermeneutic developments over the last 40 years. US Hegemony • US Universities have Institutional Review Boards that review all research that involves human subjects [this is a clear extension of the medical model]. • No research can be done without the formal agreement of these boards: this has led to a lack of primary research and an emphasis on safe secondary analyses. • Extended to Canada and Australia. Britain next? The globalization of McEthics?! New Labour Project • New Labour has greatly extended the research arm of Government. • During RPs participation in the Skills Task Force between 1998 and 2000 he saw how political considerations determined a great deal of the research agenda and how results were massaged [see Penn,1999a and 1999b]. • Research in the fields of health, education and employment now follows a safe ‘ethical’ path: one central plank of the new ethical protocols are that sponsors should not be ‘upset’. Natural Science Paradigm • Lurking behind much of the new ‘ethicalization’ of research is the natural science ‘medical model’. • Review of all medical research by an appropriate research ethics committee is now ‘de rigueur’. • Enshrined in the World Medical Association’s declaration of Helsinki, 1964. Natural Science Paradigm 2 • In 2005 the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser convened a working group that developed a universal ethical code for scientists under the auspices of the Council for Science and Technology. • This clearly assumed that one coat fits all sciences. The Medical Model Probed • The medical model was set up to deal with issues specific to medical trials. • These centre on the use of patients in double-blind experiments [these are experiments where neither patient nor Dr know who takes the trial drug or the placebo]* The Medical Model Probed 2 • Such ethical controls derive from the history of medicine itself and the need to test drugs on humans. • They centre on the need to protect patients [patient vulnerability]. • We believe that much recent development in the ‘ethics’ industry in social science involves reducing respondents to patients Problems with the Medical Model • The erection of these bureaucratic controls within the medical sphere has led to a series of negative consequences that should cause alarm bells within the social sciences. • A template to be avoided! Problems with the Medical Model 2 • The forms to be completed are enormous, confusing and off-putting. They are designed to restrict research opportunities to ‘insiders’. • There is a requirement to have the approval of a ‘statistician’ for all proposals irrespective of the actual use of statistics* • Issues of research design have been subsumed under the aegis of ‘ethics’. Problems with the Medical Model 3 • Contemporary patient care is supposed to be ‘evidence-based’. • However, in practice, any attempt to develop new ‘evidence-based’ practice has to receive prior approval by the appropriate Ethics and also R&D Governance Committees. • There is a great deal of confusion about what is ‘scientific’ and what is ‘ethical’. A Paradox • The net effect has been to drive much medical research that has a social scientific angle underground. • Practitioners now take an ‘audit’ route that avoids the aggravation of dealing with ethics committees. • The pharmaceutical companies also provide grants to fund small projects that evade scrutiny. Dangers for Social Science • Stifling of innovative, creative research. • Conflation of ‘ethics’ with ‘design’. • Conversion of ‘respondents’ into ‘patients’ • Development of an ‘insider’ culture designed to suppress research innovation. Social Science Ethics Examined • ESRC: ‘research should not cause distress or annoyance’. • Why? There are a range of circumstances where the results of research may well annoy respondents or funders. • Examples: Skills Task Force: RP concluded that ‘skills shortages were inevitable and desirable features of advanced economies’ and that much previous research into labour market issues was worthless. Social Science Ethics Examined 2 • This upset the Department of Employment who tried to suppress RPs report. • It annoyed those ‘research’ Centres in Universities that have a symbiotic and cosy relationship with the Department in terms of a cycle of grants and anodyne Reports. • It angered consultancy firms who endlessly reported that every Government initiative was a great success. And? • GOOD! Mealy-Mouthed Sentiments • The BSA section on Professional Integrity in its Statement of Ethical Practice* argues that ‘sociological research contributes to the wellbeing of society’. • This gets to the heart of the matter: who is able to or can possibly say what that is?? • Sociologists? We hope not. This is akin to Plato’s injunction that ‘Philosophers should rule’. An elitist, undemocratic and plainly daft idea. Ethics are Contested • It is obvious that ethical debate and disagreement are central to every-day discourse. People disagree because they have different ethical principles. • An example is ‘arranged marriages’: most autochthons in Britain disparage and denigrate them whilst many South Asians take a parallel view about ‘love marriages’.* Ethics are Contested 2 • Social Science is also based on enormous and profound disagreements about theories, methods and substantive issues. [see Hawthorn, 1976]* • These cannot and should not be reduced to bureaucratic decisions made by self-appointed ‘experts’ in closed committees. [NB most members of ethics’ panels have very restricted experience of actual research dilemmas] Further Vacuity • The Lancaster University Ethics Committee state that all proposed research should be ‘worthwhile’ and that ‘techniques should be appropriate’!! • Where have they been over recent years? • There is enormous dissension over both these so-called principles. • These cannot be resolved by bureaucratic fiat! Contradictions • These new ethical codes get themselves completely tied in knots when they examine issues of explanation of the research to potential respondents and over covert research • Lancaster University Ethical gauleiters demand that researchers give a ’full explanation of the study’. • This is actually impossible prior to research and is also highly undesirable. Contradictions 2 • It is not good practice to tell respondents very much about the substantive issues under scrutiny. • This is to avoid the ‘Hawthorne’ effect and also to minimize response-biases [i.e. people telling researchers what they think they want to hear or behaving in ways affected by what they have been told]. Contradictions 3 • The BSA came up with a ‘nicer’ compromise. They suggest that respondents should receive ‘appropriate details’ about prospective research. • This must be to allow ethics committees to find something to pontificate upon: otherwise it is pure nonsense! • These are matters for individual judgment and cannot be codified ‘a priori’. Covert Research • This is generally proscribed within these codes except when it is not! This ‘Alice in Wonderland’ world of the ethics industry beggars belief. • Covert research is a matter for judgment: RP used covert tape-recordings when researching recruitment policies of major supermarkets. • This was justified in terms of the research hypotheses and this was enough. The Law • Researchers have to be aware of the legal ramifications of their research. None of the ethical codes deal with this explicitly but if they did they would not approve! • Again we believe that this issue is a matter for professional judgment: when RP was comparing spectators in British and Italian football stadia he photographed the policing of games. • This is illegal in Italy [so he did it from some distance to avoid arrest and the confiscation of his camera]. The Future? THE NIGHTMARE: • Ethics Committees come to dominate and stifle innovative social science research. • Under the pretext of ethics, social science becomes ‘safe’ and averse to taking risks. • Natural science paradigms of research destroy hermeneutic strands of inquiry. The Future? 2 THE DREAM • Social scientists get off their knees and use their critical faculties to reject the ‘ethical’ industry. • Sociologists reject the Faustian compact that has ensnared them. • The only issue is the quality of the research: do not let the ethical tail wag the sociological dog!