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Ethical issues in Social Research Projects

This short paper discusses ethical issues as embedded in a TV reality show format that provides the [ill-designed] imagined setting for a social psychology-informed research project looking at group dynamics and performance under stress. The core principles of informed consent, briefing and debriefing, backup, coercion and incentives are applied to the experiment.
You find the PDF below and for download on Slideshare where you can also get a presentation transcript. Creative Commons Licence applies, attribute please. And if you like it: quote, embed – and question it 🙂

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exam revision: deductive versus inductive research strategies

This belongs to the revision of social research strategies, I am going to summarise the key differences between inductive and deductive research approaches – but first what they’ve got in common. Both strategies are rooted in a positivist assumption in terms of epistemology and ontology. The underlying empiricism, i.e. the notion that only knowledge gained through experiences and senses is acceptable, is implemented by rigorous testing. Enlarging the number of instances observed (samples) increases plausibility and the number of regularities being identified. The accumulated ‘facts’ provide basis for general laws of cause and effects. Those are depicted in models as dependent (predictor) and independent (outcome) variables.

Inductive theory is being derived from the observations made. This approach cannot test hypotheses but generates them. In contrast, deduction is theory-driven, it’s based on preconceptions and aims to overcome the limitations of induction. It puts theories to the test, that means hypotheses can be falsified and disproved. The aim is to move closer to the truth, hence the gradual elimination of false theories implies that theories tested and not disproved can only be considered provisional.

Ideally, a deductive approach starts with a theoretical framework (for instance based on Erving Goffman’s ‘stigma’ or Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘social capital’) and the formulation of hypotheses. Usually, this includes an alternative hypothesis (also called experimental H., which states the effect assumed) and the null hypothesis (which states the effect is absent). What follows is the data collection which delivers findings that either result in confirmation or rejection of the null hypothesis and a subsequent revision of the theory.

In practice, though, deduction often entails an element of induction and vice versa. This is rooted in theoretical reflection once the data has been collected or the desire to establish conditions which allow the theory to hold (or not). This continuous weaving back and forth between data and theory and is called an iterative strategy, particularly evident in qualitative research which takes a grounded theory approach and a way to add to the validity of research. In quantitative research, it is advisable to carefully distinguish between the more complex development of theory and the generalisation of empirical findings.

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MIT webart: data-mining visualised

MIT (Media Lab; Museum et al.) is asking: How does the web see you? Personas was created by Aaron Zinman et al. and produces different pieces of digital art, depending on whether you look for your real name, your avatar or someone else’s online identity. It’s a rapid creation, a speedy data-mining process that crawls whatever traces you may have left in the past and spits it out in bars and cubes. Who am I – sliced into shades of colour, chunks of categories….who am I? Is that me? That’s not even remotely me, my first reaction – but then it must be me, right? It’s based on MIT’s machine power…
britbohlinger

Research Methods – the useful material

Following on from my previous two posts, here is a list of very useful material I recommend for studying Social Research Methods including

  • research strategies and design,
  • literature review,
  • ethics and politics of research
  • sampling,
  • qualitative and quantitative methods,
  • as well as data analysis,
  • writing up social research and presentation of findings.

References:
BRYMAN, A. (3rd ed.) (2008) Social Research Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Resource centre including Flashcards, Multiple Choice Questions etc. as well as some hands-on Excel data analysis/tutorials. More useful links in relation to each chapter to external sites: weblinks by chapter. The book is also listed on Amazon, where you can search inside: Bryman’s Social Research Methods on Amazon.

DE VAUS, D. (5th ed.) (2002) Surveys in Social Research. Abingdon: Routledge.
de Vaus’s Surveys in Social Research on Amazon. This edition comes with a massive number of weblinks which de Vaus has listed on his site. Further de Vaus links, site set up by an OU student: who publishes under Ariadne and also some handy notes related to the OU’s DT840 study guide .

LEE, Carl et al. , Central Michigan University.
Tutorials and Movie Clips (based on SPSS 9.0 and 10.0) with transcripts

LEVESQUE, Raynald in Montreal, Canada SPSS tools

OPEN UNIVERSITY (OU)
OpenLearn SPSS is a step-by-step online tutorial which covers adding variables, obtaining descriptive statistics, correlation, independent t-tests, and paired samples t-tests.

ROWNTREE, D (1981) Statistics without Tears: An Introduction for Non-Mathematicians. London: Penguin Books.
a classic on Amazon, search inside.

SEALE, C. (ed.) (2004) Social Research Methods – A Reader. London: Routledge.

SOPER, Daniel offers a free calculator for multiple regression as well as a great overview of numerous concepts on his Free Statistics Calculators site which is an excellent online support source for last minute revision, pop-up windows will save you time.

TROCHIM, William M.K. Social Research Methods is another incredibly helpful site. Well structured and illustrated.

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, Los Angeles (UCLA)
SPSS Version 15.0 Learning Module includes T-tests, Chi-square tests, correlation, ANOVA (Analysis of Variance) as well as a detailed, well-structured discussion and explanation of Regression among their SPSS Webbooks.

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Research Methods – DT840 and beyond, review of course books

As announced in my earlier post on Research Methods and Skills
I am providing here a brief review of the books which present the set books in my current post-graduate course on research skills and statistics, i.e. the Open University post-graduate course DT840 (DTZY840). The assessment (5 assignments and an exam) is based on the following materials:

LE VOI, M., Sapsford, R., Potter, S., Green, A., Redman, P. and Yates S. (2008) DT840 Course and Study Guide. Milton Keynes: The Open University

POTTER, S (2nd ed.) (2006) Doing Postgraduate Research. London: Sage.
This set book by Stephen Potter – OU Professor, specialist in transport strategies, and course team members – is available on Amazon. There is also a companion which contains related links and chapter excerpts: Potter companion on Sage which, unfortunately, appears to be neglected: 3 listed links out of 4, supposed to connect to ethical frameworks, turn out to be broken. Some of the course assessment is based on the online sources which you will need to find elsewhere. I have listed ethical guidelines in a separate box on the right hand within this blog.

SAPSFORD, R. (2nd ed.) (2007) Survey Research. London: Sage.
Also this one is available on Amazon, interested readers can: search inside. The reviews on Amazon are throughout very negative and the reviewers have gone into great detail with their substantiated critique. It’s helpful to read them and keep in mind the following problems with the material:

  • Lack of a glossary
  • Minimalist link list and Index
  • Key concepts such as triangulation not mentioned
  • Discusses online research settings only very briefly, insufficient
  • References to chapters/figures/boxes/tables rather than to pages
  • 1st edition had attracted equally negative reviews
  • 16 pages contain substantial errors: in formulae, explanations of concepts, tables are wrongly labelled etc. Luckily the OU provides a list of corrections, but it’s not comprehensive and you will need to constantly check and correct.
  • Carelessly compiled bibliography: referencing appears to follow random systems and lacks consistency (the OU prefers Harvard referencing style also in this course).
  • Unclear structure with a wordy approach

[N.B. To make matters worse: NO previous exams available – as common for the majority of courses on OUSA site, yet 1 exam specimen paper is delivered by OU.]
Here is a site which lists Sapsford’s content without providing any evaluation: Sapsford content, overview by OU student.

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VKS: Ethics in (e)research Workshop in Amsterdam, Part 2

It’s a fortnight ago I attended the Workshop and the analyses of ethical dilemmas in a range of different fields explored with colleagues gained another dimension during a conversation I had last week with a friend located in continental Europe – who’s neither related to research nor sociology or internet studies in the wider sense.

I notice that a universal notion of ethics, online collaboration, self/community, individual authorship and Creative Commons equals an assumption we all see the same sky, every day. We don’t. And this is not only due to geographical location, national politics and regulation, but also related to varying degrees and facets of collective unconsciousness. The kind of public debates I do have access to here in the UK by help of traditional media including print media differ considerably from German debates (so do US debates I access online). Different types of angst feed into such discourses on macro and micro levels. Only by seeking actively to push my personal boundaries and engaging in a challenge of my own ideas as well as questioning what is taken for granted by others, something of a more personalised value system, based on eclecticism has emerged. This is a mix of nationally framed legal regulations, enhanced by ethical guidelines compiled by academic and professional bodies, plus a range of personal, in part moral, beliefs.

The questions I have in mind are:

  1. Are others similarly aware of their values and beliefs and their origin?
  2. Are they subscribing to a notion of values in flux or rather static, life-long held beliefs when it comes to moral values and ethics, in particular in the globalised virtual sphere?
  3. Where does awareness and reflexivity come from if not formally acquired, and what role do social media play in this? Is it undermining, challenging or enhancing ‘everyday ethics’?

Clashes and opportunities are produced in social networks which offer discussions in forums and groups. Large and heterogeneous groups of individuals engage in debates and become exposed to ideas, behaviours and practices they are less likely to encounter in real life in such a speedy, diverse, and dynamic manner. I recalled my own experiences and reviewed my impressions, wondering whether research can be improved in its ethical quality if more consideration would be given to the following aspects:

  • Communication skills and awareness levels are culturally embedded, they are often taken for granted and subject to assumptions rather than being explicitly discussed and reflected upon – if researchers take a reflexive approach why not offering research participants the chance to engage in a collective exercise of reflexivity too?
  • The digital divide 2.0: social media super-users vs social media sceptics – are social media super-users ethically more aware as they are more likely to be exposed to a wider range of positive as well as ethically problematic behaviours?
  • How do adult research participants learn about ethical issues? Informal learning processes (which can be an incentive for research participants as well as researchers), crowdsourcing practices and non-target driven engagement in social network sites may result in a stronger sense of authorship and a willingness to challenge practices of production of authoritative knowledge in the researchers’ world. Yet, this may be rather an exception than the norm. Would researchers and societies benefit from a more pro-active approach on the part of researchers, for instance by including such debates into research projects and making them part of the data collection?
  • Not just Twitter but also Facebook is one such major site that potentially may help to increase attribution awareness. However, as attributing practices, for instance on Twitter, evolve rapidly but haven’t stabilised yet, we cannot assume users will adjust and adopt naturally the most ethically beneficial syntax at some point. Flickr for instance offers currently 4 explicit options under the Creative Commons Licence – plus the option to not licence images and videos but make them freely available for all purposes. The advise is provided in clear language and many users may develop an awareness for authorship and copyrights, however, others may not even bother about finding out the differences between options.

What is supposed to be right or how things should be done online differs widely, conventions are emerging and are being challenged on an ongoing basis. The amount of trust gained over time by help of familiarisation with Social Network Sites and Social Bookmarking Sites as well as expertise in online commenting, eloquence and online ‘street wisdom’ separates social media savvy users from those who rather stick to e-mail and the consultation of conventional websites. This distinction applies also to researchers and academics. Awareness-building and reflexivity as well as ethical considerations should accompany the entire research process, from drafting to publishing and beyond, when participants critique the findings and interpretations. The learning could and should be mutual, without fearing the researcher’s expertise and specialist position is under threat, although it might well be under scrutiny due to the increased level of transparency. That may well be a very optimistic stance, yet, a paradigm shift towards collaboration in a partner-like manner could be beneficial and much more sustainable on the long-term and it could help to educate where institutionalised learning fails to reach out.

The key discussion points and questions raised at the workshop have been posted by Anne Beaulieu at the Virtual Knowledge Studio as FAQs which underlines the fact that ethics in (e)research is not only ongoing and iterative but also a process rather than a stage at some point of a research which means, frequently asked questions may require new answers, each time we encounter the dilemma.

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