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Ethics vs. Research

Researchers are grappling with the ethical dilemma of deceiving their subjects "in the name of science," reports Shirley S. Wang in The Wall Street Journal (8/26/14). The argument goes that there are some circumstances under which failing to tell subjects they are being studied is the only way to get accurate information. Geoff Pearson of University of Liverpool applied this premise in a ten-year study of "the behavior of rowdy soccer fans in the UK" after deciding "that just talking to them wasn’t good enough."

So, instead "he joined the fans at football matches to watch how the crowd behavior went from calm to rowdy … He wrote down his observations while huddled in the restroom, talked into a recorder by pretending it was a cellphone and jotted down copious notes after matches. Most important, he didn’t tell fans he was studying them." This flies in the face of "one of the main tenets of ethical research … that participants should be informed that they’re being studied and for what purpose."

Kypros Kypri of University of Newcastle meanwhile reports that "just asking heavy drinkers about their alcohol use sometimes changes their behavior." In this case, the research doubled as a kind of intervention, but without subjects knowing it. Kypros argues that the health benefits outweighed the ethical issues. In Geoff Pearson’s case, the undercover research helped improve policing at soccer matches. A key insight was that disorderly conduct was more likely when police "dressed in riot gear." Things went more smoothly "when police engaged in friendly conversation with the crowd."

Survey Says

“According to Ikea, 11 percent of people are now having secks in their kitchens … Maybe people are having trouble putting their Ikea bedroom sets together.” Ikea says Jay Leno told that joke on the Tonight Show, but as reported by Deborah Baldwin in The New York Times, (3/2/06) the real joke was the survey itself: “Blame that journalistic chestnut known as the trend story, the one with the ‘more and more’ phrase up top,” she writes. “With journalists scrounging for statistics to shore up their latest anecdotal observations, publicists are helpfully flooding the zone with scientific-sounding findings.”

For instance, “precisely 82 percent of respondents in a recent survey said that shopping carts were ‘among the worst’ germ offenders” via a press release from BabeEase, makers of “shopping cart seat covers for germ-phobic parents of young children … A survey for Sears concluded that a woman’s best friend is her tool kit” and reports: “Three out of five women would rather receive an hour of advice from Bob Vila than Dr. Phil … A survey done for eBay and Country Home magazine found that for millions of women, collecting is ‘a way of life’” and “that eBay had made collecting ‘easier’ and ‘more fun’.”

eBay’s PR department really likes the survey thing, apparently: “Another eBay survey, also probing the secret lives of women, uncovered a shortcoming among those who remodel. Nearly half said the most difficult part of the process … is staying within budget.” eBay’s advice: “Many of today’s best bargains can be found on the internet.” Okay, we have time for just one more (and more): “A stunning 78 percent of Americans surveyed had never traveled to visit a patriotic home,” according to a press release from the Wood Promotion Network, issued on the Fourth of July. The release went on to observe that “if they were to visit a patriotic home — Mount Vernon, say — they would be interested to learn that these houses were built … of wood." ~ Tim Manners, editor