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Table of Contents

  1. Key questions
  2. Example of harm from social science research -
  3. Research merit and integrity
  4. Justice
  5. Special protections for vulnerable communities
  6. Ethics Controversies: Case Studies - Debates about the ethics of the Tearoom Trade Study Methodology
  7. Case 2: The Human Terrain System
  8. Informed consent
  9. Freedom from coercion
  10. Case 3: Gang Leader for a day
  11. When social scientists uncover crime through their research
    1. Confidentiality for research participants when crime occurs
  12. Other ethical problems in Venkatesh's research
  13. Responsibilities to people/cultures being studied
    1. Informed Consent
    2. Informed consent scenario
    3. Best practice:
    4. Protecting identities of participants
    5. Case Study
    6. Protecting identities of participants: scenario
  14. Do no harm: think about the ramifications of the research
  15. Reciprocity: paying people for their contributions
    1. Reciprocity and collaboration with the community you work with
  16. Intimacy in research: maintaining informed consent over time
    1. Case Study:
    2. Intimacy in ethnographic research: sex and the field
  17. Respect for persons:
  18. Protection from psychological or physical harm
  19. Intellectual property
  20. Summary of Principles of Ethical Research
  21. Council for International Organization of Medical Sciences (CIOMS)
  22. Death of Jesse Gelsinger (1999) Conflicts of Interest Example
  23. Respect for Persons
  24. Informed Consent
    1. Voluntariness
    2. Comprehension
    3. Disclosure
  25. Case Study: Study on Campus
  26. Informed Consent
    1. Consent Document 1
    2. Consent Document 2
  27. Requirements for documentation of informed consent
  28. Decisional Capacity
  29. Children's Participation in Research
    1. Lack of assent from a child
  30. Research with prisoners
  31. Community Consultation
  32. Beneficence
  33. Justice
  34. Compensation for Research Participation
    1. Avoiding undue inducement
    2. Case Study involving confidentiality of clinical data
  35. Confidentiality

Ethics Controversies: Case Studies - Debates about the ethics of the Tearoom Trade Study Methodology

In the 1960's PhD student in sociology Laud Humphreys studied men who have sex with other men in public restrooms of city parks. These restrooms were known as "tearooms". Humphreys got his information by acting as "watch queen", playing the role of lookout and warning the men if anyone was coming. The men involved did not know he was a researcher.

In addition to recording the sex acts of over 100 men Humphreys had a small subset who knew he was a researcher and spoke to him about sex in public places and homosexuality (which was in the 1960s criminalised in the United States).

Humphreys wanted to understand the relationship between these men's anonymous homosexual acts and their public lives. He recorded their licence plates as they returned to their cars, and then found out their addresses. A year later, he changed his hair, dress and car and went to the home of 50 of these men. Portraying himself as a social health researcher he interviewed them under false pretences to gain information on their marital status, sexuality and sexual orientations and occupations.

At the time of Humphreys' research having sex with men was a crime in most of the U.S. Men could be arrested and sentenced to years in prison for it. If the police had got hold of Humphreys' data or if the identities of the men involved had been revealed, they would have been severely stigmatised, their family lives ruined, they could have lost their jobs, or even been arrested and imprisoned.

In not identifying himself as a researcher Humphreys argued he was doing nothing wrong, he was merely observing behaviour in public spaces and said he masqueraded as a gay "watch queen" so as not to interfere with the research. Most social scientists agree that observing people's acts in public spaces is not unethical, as long as people are not identified.

On risk that his notes could have been seized to identify men engaged in illegal acts said he would have risked going to jail rather than hand them over. Others have said no researcher should have such power over others, no matter how good their intentions are.

Most have found his most serious ethical violation the way he disguised himself and went to mens' homes on a false pretext, invading their privacy. Humphreys argued his deception was justified as the acts were so stigmatised he would not have got the information otherwise.