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Lecture 5

Ethics&Answers - Week 5.docx

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Western University
Sociology 2206A/B
Stacey Hallman

Case 1 Misuse of Data Dr Elizabeth Johnson is a sociologist who heads a public policy institute within a large state university The institute wins the state contract to evaluate new state welfare initiatives The contract stipulates that the social scientists associated with the institute who make up the evaluation team will be able to use the data for their own research in addition to using it as the basis for specific state mandated evaluation studies The initial evaluation studies of the state experiment in welfare reform show no reduction in the number of welfare recipients and suggest some unexpected and dysfunctional aspects of specific aspects of the experiment In response to these findings the director of the state Department of Health and Human Services writes a letter to the public policy institute nullifying the evaluation contract and directing Johnson to return the data to the state within two weeks Johnson protests to the Chancellor of his institution who directs her to complyIf Johnson doesnt inform the public in some way welfare recipients in her state and in any other states where these particular policies are adopted may suffer and state funds may be wasted It is for this reason that she might want to talk about the public policy institutes initial findings She might also want to reveal what appears to be the political nature of the contract cancellation both because it says something important about the current administration and because she may feel she has been wronged Each is a separate ethical issue that she should probably not act on with consulting knowledgeable others and strategizing the minimize injury to herself her profession and her colleaguesNot only may she feel wronged but she may also feel that her colleagues have been wronged There may be those among them whose career advancement will be compromised by having to return the data On the other hand these same colleagues may have their job prospects diminished if she goes public rather than quietly discussing the experience Johnson could copy the data and use this copy to publish from but if she does she puts herself and her colleagues at risk legally may be putting their jobs in jeopardy and engages in action with itself is of dubious ethical standingShe should certainly investigate the grievance procedure at her institution and within the state bureaucracy She should also immediately reread the contract and make sure that it says what she thinks it says Blanket approval of access to data for purposes of publication in evaluations of this sort is unusual If she is unsure of the meaning of the contract she should seek competent advice All this is advice after the fact Close scrutiny of the contract up front and subsequent negotiation of problematic language or insistence on language that guarantees the integrity of the research process along with consideration of the volatility of the topic of the evaluation might have made this whole situation avoidable
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