Contingency in Conversational Consent and Turbulent Collaborations

Posted confidentially on the author’s behalf by the ethics blog editors

This is the story of how my collaboration with a coauthor collapsed over ethical concerns. Neither of us violated any formal ethical protocols. And yet, our ethical sensibilities were divergent, premised upon different agreements and conversations with members of the community we both work with. The story shows that while taking an open-ended “conversational” rather than “regulatory adherence” approach to ethics might help researchers attend to the contextual specificity of particular ethnographic projects, conversations between co-authors about their respective ethical agreements need to happen early on in a collaboration, and even then might not solve every problem. Which conversations are had, by whom and with whom? How do these conversations change over time? What is left unsaid, and how do such things come to matter when researchers work together?

Early in my research, community leaders explained to me their worries about how my work could lead to harm. Their concerns mostly involved keeping out of the public eye: on at least one occasion, the publication of a news story about their small community had subjected them to a visit by ethno-nationalist vandals. I was urged not to do things that could potentially attract this kind of harassment.

As my research continued, I learned that individuals could differ greatly in their attitudes toward privacy. While preparing to publish my first academic paper, I included information about someone that she objected to. Fortunately, we discovered this before I submitted the final version, so I was able to take it out. Since then, I have asked community members to review my manuscripts before I submit them for publication. Interestingly, the community leader I am closest to objects to this practice. He thinks that some people have unreasonable privacy concerns and that I give them too much say over my work. Through my experience with these different perspectives over a period of years, I have become highly sensitive to the political nature of privacy concerns and the importance of handling them with care.

I brought this heightened sensitivity to the collaborative writing project that eventually broke down. I noticed that my colleague had included photographs of people in the community in some of his prior work. When I mentioned this to the people featured, they seemed unpleasantly surprised to learn that their photos had been used in this way. I knew my colleague had positive relationships in the community, so after bringing the matter to his attention I let it drop.

But in the context of our co-authorship, my concerns resurfaced when he wanted to cite his prior work with the photographs. I worried that readers could follow the citation trail to identifying information of a sort that I had promised to keep private. My colleague resisted removing the citation on the grounds that to do so was improper scholarship. He suggested that we go back to one of the leaders for advice, but for me this was not a solution, given the differences of opinion that I knew existed in the community. Later, my colleague assured me he had signed consent forms to publish the images in question. This surprised me, since it flew in the face of my own agreement with community leaders to keep such information private. I understood later that my colleague and I had begun our work at different times and that the stakes might have been described differently to each of us. Even individual persons’ concerns seemed to have changed over time. But by the point I understood this, my relationship with my collaborator had become too strained to be readily repaired.

What this case of collaboration-gone-awry shows is that the conversations in “conversational ethics” are subject to matters of power, temporality, and happenstance. My colleague and I had divergent ethical dispositions, senses of responsibility, and understandings of risk. In part these emerged out of the different conversations we had had at different times with different community members—and in some cases, even with the same individuals. We had different understandings of who speaks with authority, and even which moments of conversation we should hold ourselves accountable to. Because we simply took for granted that our perspectives would align, we had no consensus on the ethical issues at stake and no clear way to move forward. We were both blindsided and hurt when we found ourselves in a collaboration that could not be sustained.

Speaking with my colleague about our respective ethical assumptions early on in the collaboration might have helped us avoid this outcome. However, before such dialogues can even begin, researchers need to be able to imagine that there are a range of ethical issues, positions, and agreements at stake, even when working within the same community. I hope that sharing this story helps show how this can be so, and motivates others to recognize this difficult but potentially important aspect of professional collaboration.

It’s Time for a Stronger Commitment with Our International Colleagues

Leila Rodriguez Associate Professor of Anthropology

University of Cincinnati

The American Anthropological Association lists knowledge dissemination as one of its guiding ethical principles. In particular, it discourages withholding findings from research participants. But anthropologists who conduct fieldwork internationally have three additional and related ethical obligations: to participate in the academic conferences of the countries and regions in which they conduct research, to publish their findings in the academic journals of those countries and regions, and to cite the scholarship of local anthropologists. Failure to do so results in the continued colonization of knowledge and imposition of Western theory and epistemology as the true representation of social reality.

Why do so many U.S. anthropologists fail to fulfill these responsibilities? Diminishing funds in U.S. universities force academics to choose in which conferences to participate, and those closer to home may be more affordable. While funding is a legitimate concern, it is not an excuse for not publishing in local journals or knowing and citing local scholars. There is growing recognition about the importance of this kind of international academic engagement. The Wenner-Gren Foundation, for example, offers an Engaged Anthropology Grant for its grantees to return to their research site and share results with the community in which the research was conducted or the academic community in the country or region of research.

Increasingly strict tenure requirements often value U.S. conferences and journals more highly. The decreasing availability of tenured positions further pressures academics to focus their energy only on activities that will be most valued in tenure evaluations. Still, academic propriety is not reason enough to disregard ethical responsibilities. Most top universities list internationalization as an important value and departments have leeway in determining their tenure requirements: we can make a case for valuing the kind of international academic engagement I propose. More importantly, an occasional international presentation or publication, and the citation of international scholars in U.S.-based publications will not make excessive demands on the time nor diminish the rest of the scholarly output of researchers.

Some anthropologists may simply be unaware of the academic community in the countries in which they work. While problematic in itself, this is perhaps the most easily resolved. The World Council of Anthropological Associations lists almost 50 national and regional anthropological associations. Many others are missing from the list, and can be found using a quick Google search: Anthropology Southern Africa, Central American Anthropology Network, Latin American Biological Anthropology Association, to name a few. Technology further enables us to locate the existence of international anthropology journals. For example, Redalyc and Latindex provide a directory and catalog of most academic journals in Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal.

Many anthropologists contribute to local communities and share their work with research subjects in other ways. Those efforts are absolutely necessary. Recently, a Chilean colleague lamented that local anthropologists’ access to some Mapuche communities has

been hindered by negative views of the discipline, a fact they attribute in large part to primarily U.S. and European graduate students not sharing their findings and publications with their Mapuche research participants. While sharing information with research subjects is crucial, it is not enough. The three tasks that I propose are aimed at something else that directly involves academic communities: they are necessary steps in the decolonization of knowledge.

My call to decolonize knowledge is by no means new. Anthropologists have been calling for it for several decades, and the publications on the topic are numerous and impossible to summarize here. Twenty years ago Mexican anthropologist Esteban Krotz (1997) remarked that “[i]t is ironic that the establishment within the North Atlantic civilization of an ever more prosperous and successful scientific discipline, dedicated particularly to cultural diversity, has come hand in hand with a strong and sustained tendency of the same civilization to silence that diversity.” The predominance of English language in academia contributes to that silencing, but it is not the sole culprit. To quote Harrison (2012) “there is a problematic tendency for southern anthropologists to be treated as high-level informants or over-qualified fieldwork assistants […] at best local anthropologists are relegated to the role of minor-stream scholars, rather than being regarded as significant sources of theoretically-nuanced mainstream knowledge.” This sentiment was echoed by a Central American colleague who complained that in some instances local archaeologists, who collected the assemblages or published reports with raw data that are analyzed by U.S. archaeologists, are at best cited in the bibliography with no real consideration of their contributions and perspectives. Countries like Costa Rica and Guatemala have enacted laws that require foreign archaeologists to collaborate with, hire or otherwise involve local scholars in their work. Cultural anthropologists are not subjected to the same requirements.

It is unlikely that any U.S. anthropologist today will admit to placing little value on international colleagues and their theory making. Elsewhere, anthropologists have called for the revision of anthropological curricula to include more diverse and so-called peripheral scholarship (see further readings list below). Moving forward on this issue, however, requires more steps, and I propose this one: include in the AAA’s Principles of Professional Responsibility the commitment to share knowledge with –and incorporate the knowledge of – local anthropologists by the three means I outlined above: participate in the academic conferences of the countries and regions in which they conduct research, publish findings in the academic journals of those countries and regions, and cite the scholarship of anthropologists from those countries and regions. Addressing these responsibilities in the ethics statement advances the narrative about decolonizing anthropological knowledge as an issue of ethics, or a “reexamination of one’s own taken for granted moral stances, respect and consideration for other cultural traditions of morality, and reflection on how to resolve the juxtaposition of sometimes disparate moral discourses” (Black 2016). Engagement with international scholars IS an ethical issue. As a scholarly community and as a professional association, we have the choice to continue to suppress local scholarship, or to learn it, spread it, critique it, and value it as much as U.S. scholarship.

References Cited:

Black, Steven P. 2016. Ethics, Anthropology and Adjudication. Available at: http://ethics.americananthro.org/ethics-anthropology-and-adjudication/

Harrison, Faye V. 2012. Dismantling Anthropology’s Domestic and International Peripheries. World Anthropologies Network 6:87-110

Krotz, Esteban. 1997. Anthropologies of the South. Their Rise, Their Silencing, Their Characteristics. Critique of Anthropology 17(3)237-251

Further Reading:

Appadurai, Arjun. 1986. Theory in Anthropology: Center and Periphery. Comparative Studies in Society and History 28(2)356-361

Comaroff, Jean and John L. Comaroff. 2012. Theory from the South or, How Euro-America is Evolving toward Africa. London: Paradigm Publishers

Connell, Raewyn. 2007. Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. Cambridge:Polity

Dominguez, Virginia. 1994. A Taste for the “Other”: Intellectual Complicity in Racialized Practices. Current Anthropology 35(4)333-348

Harrison, Faye (Ed.) 2010. Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further toward an Anthropology for Liberation. 3rd edition. Arlington: American Anthropological Association

Mignolo, Walter. 2007. Introduction. Cultural Studies, 21(2-3)155-167

Mignolo, Walter. 2011. The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham: Duke UP.

Ntarangwi, Mwenda, David Mills and Mustafa Babiker (Eds). 2006. African Anthropologies: History, Critique and Practice. Dakar:CODESRIA-Zed Books

Ortiz, Renato. 2006. Social Sciences and the English Language. Revista Brasileira de Ciências Sociais 2(SE)0-0

Quijano, Aníbal. 2000. Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America. Nepantla: Views from South 1(3)533-580

Ribeiro, Gustavo Lins and Arturo Escobar (Eds). 2006. World Anthropologies: Disciplinary Transformations within Systems of Power. Oxford:Berg

Said, Edward. 1981. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies. 2nd edition. London: Zed Books

Wolf, Eric. 1999. Anthropology among the Powers. Social anthropology 7(2)121-134

Joining Someone Else’s Research Project? Check Their Ethics Protocol!

Posted confidentially on the author’s behalf by the ethics blog editors

This post is a reflection on the role that IRBs and other institutional gatekeepers can play in protecting informants and researchers from unethical actions committed in the course of large research projects. It tells the (highly condensed) true story of a team project focused on helping refugees resettled in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, a project with such progressive, socially ambitious goals attracted researchers from several subfields of anthropology, including a couple of graduate students from the department where the project was hosted. A recently arrived refugee worked as a research assistant on the project to liaison with the refugee population.

As an anthropologist hired in as a postdoc to work on the project, I began to feel that some things were “off” when I observed that the refugee who worked for the project was never invited to the team meetings or given a key to the office. After getting to know the person working in this role, I learned that s/he was being paid hourly, barely above minimum wage, and had no health insurance or benefits of any kind. Soon, the uncomfortable feeling of finding myself working for a project that was “all talk and no show” turned into something much worse when researchers on the team were asked by the project director to do things that we felt were serious violations of anthropological ethics. Highly sensitive personal data were being collected, handled, and stored in the most careless way. Informed consent was barely an afterthought. During the months I worked for the project, I witnessed how disrespectfully the project director treated the one refugee employed on the project. In the employee’s own words, s/he felt better and freer at the refugee camp than working for this project! I also noticed that the observations we had made were manipulated at community events and professional meetings. The project director once admitted knowing that the project was “way out of compliance”. But all that seemed to matter to the director was that we appeared to be making progress so the grant could be renewed.

While I worried about the unprofessional and unethical ways in which we were being pushed to conduct research, I also feared being fired. Like others working on the project, my contract was “at will,” and everyone who expressed the slightest difference of opinion to the project director was threatened with being let go. To complicate things even further, the project was being conducted at the same institution where the project director had received their PhD, which made me, as a relative newcomer, wonder if such practices were supported (if not fostered) by that department. Hence I had to ask myself: who can I report to in this institution that will not automatically disregard my testimony?

My first instinct was to take these matters directly to the project’s advisory board. I was extremely lucky to get guidance from my mentors at my alma mater, whom I asked for help. They advised me not to go to the advisory board, as they may have had conflicting interests (for example, the project director’s dissertation advisor was a member of that board). So I contacted the university’s office of research compliance and IRB instead. Upon reviewing the documentation presented, the compliance director and the IRB immediately opened an investigation on the project. After interviewing several team members, the IRB decided to shut down the project until further notice. In addition to the problematic way in which the research was being carried out, I learned that no researchers (other than the project director) were even mentioned in the IRB protocol; hence none of us were technically authorized to be doing this research in the first place. In retrospect, I am shocked at how naive I was, not asking to see copies of the IRB protocol before starting to work on the project. A few months later our contracts were up. Needless to say, the grant was not renewed.

In this situation, the refugees we were working with were vulnerable, but so were the researchers, who found themselves with their backs against the wall: doing research the project director’s way, or “the highway.” What I would like to underscore is that it was the IRB and the university’s research compliance office, not the anthropology department, who were the ones to tell the project director that research could not be conducted in that way. By suspending the project and seizing all the data collected by the team, the IRB not only effectively protected participants’ rights, it also protected the researchers from being pushed to engage in unethical practices. Ironically, it also protected us from having to publish the data that we had collected. As bad as it is for a postdoc not having any publications to show for a year’s work—especially while on the job market—it is better than publishing something that would later have to be retracted.

We sometimes think of anthropologists as sympathetic saints who know more than their IRBs about “research with human subjects” and who would not, by the very nature of their professional commitments, violate the rights of participants in their research. But the fact is that such violations have happened in the past and continue to happen today. It is good and necessary, if at times tedious, to have to show someone that our work complies with federal regulations and the ethical guidelines those regulations aim to implement. Finally, a word of caution to anthropologists moving into postdoctoral positions: never embark on a project without first checking with the project director about their approach to research ethics. Ask to see the ethics protocol. It may be an awkward thing to ask at the time, but it is better than finding out later that you are implicated in an unethical project that renders all your professional efforts totally worthless.

Class Struggle is the Name of the Game at Universities. It’s the Ethical Elephant in the Room

Brian McKenna

Picture this. You have a Ph.D. in anthropology and are hired, as an adjunct, to teach an anthropology course on “colonialism, economic crisis, peasant struggles, nationalism, indigenous rights, independence movements, and struggles over development and underdevelopment.” That’s an actual job posting. The salary for the position is $3,413.

A tenured faculty member may receive about $10,000 to teach the same course.

Now answer this. How can you NOT talk about your own struggles when the subjects you are hired to teach on – oppression and struggle – apply to you? You are a flesh and blood native of Nacirema (“America” spelt backwards) standing before the students. You can provide insider testimony, as a key informant, about “the other.” And you are “the other.” You are a Ph.D. anthropologist who is actually working in the field.

Many adjunct professors are afraid to speak about the elephant in the classroom. They are being monitored. They are under constant surveillance from customers (student smartphones and course evaluations), middle managers (teaching observations by Chairs), technicians (email monitoring by IT), executive officers (annual reviews read by Deans), and CEOs (Provosts and Presidents). They must be careful. They need that paycheck for food, housing, health care, even burial. At one university where I worked I was informed that, before I arrived, the department had to take up a collection for the funds to bury an adjunct professor after he died from a massive heart attack in his office.

The contradictions within the university are enormous. Self-censorship is the rule for any precarious worker, especially in a factory or fast food job. But for an educator? Surely those educated in the threatening science (Price 2004) and dangerous art (McKenna and Darder 2011) of anthropology would be at the forefront of resistance. Here is a troublesome irony: many of the adjunct’s superiors in the academic hierarchy are other anthropologists. They are often Deans, Provosts or Presidents, academics who have crossed over into administration. Here is another irony, those Deans and Presidents can erode tenured faculty pay, over time, in response to the existence of the dual labor market. Is their primary loyalty to the neoliberal institution or is it to their fellow anthropologists? Are they complicit in the deplorable pay and working conditions?

Of course this is an old, old story. I shared my thoughts with a veteran adjunct, a social activist who once worked as a housing organizer in the 1960s. He asked, “Why precarity now? Where was the association for the past 30 years? I’m sorry; nobody expressed adjunct precarity as an ethical or social justice concern. It was always I got mine, now get yours. There must be something wrong with you, It’s always been competitive; not everyone with a Ph.D. gets a job. The victim-blaming, stigmatization of adjuncts as invisible and ‘other,’ together with the adjunct’s feelings of self-blame, and self-doubt compound the sense of alienation and often even social paralysis. it’s about time that the discipline woke up; however, the train left the station decades ago, and that train has made thousands of round trips.”

Why Precarity now? One reason is because the United States is in its “end times.” The AAA itself recognized this with the title of its 2009 annual conference. America is now a post-Orwellian culture of permanent war, bulwarked by the “terror of neoliberalism” at home (Giroux 2004, 2007). Why precarity now? Because most of us are now treated like adjuncts. “There’s a lot of fear in academia,” explained noted anthropologist and labor organizer Paul Durrenberger in his 2014 Malinowski speech at the SfAA (see his “Living up to Our Words” 2014; See also his “Anthropology of Labor Unions” 2010). Indeed, class struggle is everywhere in the authoritarian university. It’s in the debt peonage of students, new corporate alignments, suppression of dissent, student push-out (drop-out) rates, elimination of humanities programs, and workplace bullying of dissenters. It’s in its focus on STEM for capital not ROOT for people: Revolutionary history, Ontology and ethics, Organizing skills and Transformational humanities.

Class struggle is deeply embedded in the digital revolution as well. E-learning, distance education, and Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)s have come of age. They are said to expand democracy. Some faculties question this. On April 29, 2013 the philosophy faculty of San Jose State University wrote a letter protesting the way in which a Harvard professor’s lecture was taped and disseminated widely for classroom use. The professors refused to teach that philosophy course developed by edX, “saying they do not want to enable what they see as a push to ‘replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities’” (Kolowich 2013). It’s not just MOOCS but e-learning systems like CANVAS and Blackboard too (McKenna 2013).

With their aggressive entry into higher education, the corporate state is consolidating its power in the third leg of Eisenhower’s feared trifecta: “the military-industrial-ACADEMIC complex.” In 2012 major industry officials announced their study showing the “enormous potential for the future of the e-learning market.” IBIS Capital and the Edxus Group, said that “While education as a whole is triple the size of the media and entertainment industry at $4.2 trillion, digital education is currently only 20% of the size of the digital media market. They expect to see fifteen fold growth in the e-learning market in the next 10 years to represent 30% of the total education market,” reported Pippa Cottrell in Realwire (Cottrell 2013). Educators have not yet had adequate time to theorize the darker side of the digital earthquake in their midst (McKenna 2013). It is one thing for computers to be freely chosen by faculty for their creative pedagogical ends (Jandric and Boras 2015); it is quite another for computers to be foisted on them, in authoritarian fashion, as a tool that faculty have to adapt to for fear of losing their jobs. There are few “Teach-Ins” over this ethical dilemma.

In their illuminating article on this blog in March 2015, “Professional Precarity, Ethics and Social Justice,” Avineri and Black noted that Principle seven of the AAA Ethics Statement “is impractical or even impossible” to satisfy at this juncture. They draw attention to the imperative that “Anthropologists should at all times work to ensure that no exclusionary practices be perpetrated. . .” Bev Davenport added, in the comments section, that one way out of this ethical dilemma (of excluding precarious professors) is to offer a “full time lecturer with a multi-year contract . . . an avenue for promotion” into the tenure track. I wholeheartedly agree.

We all know adjunct anthropologists who have worked in departments for 20 years or more, teaching full loads and making poverty wages. Once over the age of 50 they often become permanent adjuncts. They hope to retire with that job. In my estimation you have about five years after getting a Ph.D. to land a tenure track job. Competing against 150 applicants for the same tenure track position, people know the odds are against them. Some reassure themselves that it’s a level playing field, even after reapplying for twenty years straight. I’ve even heard it be said that “It’s a lottery.” Not so. The tenure track jobs tend to go to new Ph.D. graduates from a select group of universities.

Muhammed Ali was mercilessly pummeled for seven rounds by George Forman in the “Rumble in the Jungle,” but was miraculously able to spring back from the “rope-a-dope” and win. Can we? The class struggle in higher education demands a holistic analysis and an insurgent response. We must investigate the political economy, preserve teacher autonomy and bring the precariat into the tenure track where they can gain the dignity and respect they deserve. As applied anthropologists we need to teach organizing skills in our classrooms. As civically engaged activists we need to organize unions throughout academia. Remember, an injury to one is an injury to all. Take back higher education.

References

Avineri, Netta and Black, Stephen (2015) “Professional Precarity, Ethics and Social Justice,” AAA Ethics Blog, March 27. http://ethics.americananthro.org/professional-precarity-ethics-and-social-justice/

Cottrall, Pippa (2013) “Digitalisation of Education Will Result in Fifteen Fold Growth for E-Learning Market Over the Next Decade.” Realwire. May 14.

Durrenberger, Paul and Reichart, Karaleah (eds.) (2010) “The Anthropology of Labor Unions,” Boulder:University of Colorado.

Durrenberger, Paul (2014) “Living up to Our Words” Human Organization: Winter 2014, Vol. 73, No. 4, pp. 299-304.

Giroux, Henry (2004) Take Back Higher Education. Basingstoke, UK:Palgrave.

Giroux, Henry (2004) The Terror of Neoliberalism. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

Giroux, Henry (2007) The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

Jandric, Petar and Boras, Damir, eds. (2015) Critical Learning in Digital Networks. Switzerland:Springer.

Kolowich, Steve (2013) “Why Professors at San Jose State Won’t Use a Harvard Professor’s MOOC.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. May 2. http://chronicle.com/article/Why-Professors-at-San-Jose/138941/

McKenna, Brian. 2008a. “Ted Downing and Troublemaker Anthropology: How ‘Yes, Sir,’ Necessarily Becomes ‘No sir,’” CounterPunch, Petrolia, CA, December 30.

McKenna, Brian and Antonia Darder, eds. 2011. “The Art of Public Pedagogy, Should ‘the truth’ Dazzle Gradually or Thunder Mightily?” Special Edition, Policy Futures in Education 9:6: 670-685.

McKenna, Brian. 2013. “The Predatory Pedagogy of On-Line Learning,” CounterPunch, Petrolia, CA, June 3. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/06/03/the-predatory-pedagogy-of-on-line-education/

Price, D. (2004), Threatening Anthropology McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists (Durham, NC: Duke University Press).

When a PI Plagiarizes

Posted confidentially on the author’s behalf by the ethics blog editors

In the October 1, 2014 New York Times Magazine, celebrated author Marilynne Robinson paraphrases John Wycliffe as saying, “If you do not object strenuously to a superior’s bad behavior, you are as bad, as guilty as he is of what happens.” However, I can attest to the reasons why so few subordinates do this—or why you have not heard of them even though they may have tried. If you are not a Pulitzer Prize winning academic, things can go very badly for whistle-blowers and rarely badly for their superiors in the academy, protected as they are by university legal counsels whose job it is to prevent public disclosure and its consequences.

Based on my ethnographic research and publication history, I was hired as a research anthropologist on a large grant by a PI with a proven track record of co-authorship with prior junior colleagues in my position. Within six months of being hired to conduct research among a different population than that studied by the PI, I wrote my first article based on a paper I had given at a national anthropology conference. Since my paper described patterns that disagreed with the PI’s previous findings, she rightly asked for evidence, which I gave her from numerous examples in my research notes that I routinely uploaded to a shared folder online. As part of our employment agreement on co-authorship, I gave her multiple iterations of that first article and then other drafts with different emphases, but the PI never worked on them. She told me she was “burned out” from working for decades on this topic and was “having writer’s block.”

Yet, when I attended a university lecture given by the PI, I was taken aback that her talk incorporated without acknowledgement all of my new ideas. Perhaps a different person would have confronted her then. Instead, I excused her by imagining the pressure she must have been under to produce this talk, and by remembering the many high caliber co-authored papers she had written with previous junior colleagues. Yet the PI would never engage with my first authored draft articles I sent her, asking me instead to work on her draft articles where my name was prominently displayed as second author.

Fast forward three years spent working very happily with my research population while experiencing utter frustration that I had not been able to get a single one of my first-authored drafts onto the PI’s agenda for editing toward publication. She held me off by saying that my “ideas were brilliant, but [my] writing needed extensive editing” – precisely what co-authorship in research institutions is intended to help with. And, what I was doing for hers, I thought rather bitterly.

One day, while taking an EndNote workshop in the university library, I entered the PI’s name to get her previous publications into my grant reference section and was shocked to find that she had four recent publications that used my language word for word in some places, with paraphrases in others. In her publications, she claimed sole credit for my original findings and conceptual analyses taken from the draft articles I had given her, even though the data was from an entirely different population than she studied. Nowhere were my contributions cited or acknowledged in any way. I took my concerns to the dean, who contacted the PI. The PI immediately offered to contact the journals to give me first authorship on the first publication and second authorship on five others (as it happened, she had two more articles using my ideas under review). I agreed to these conditions.

But then the university’s chief counsel stepped in. Unfortunately, the scope of the ethical breach made it impossible for the dean to not involve the university’s legal team, given that it received numerous grants from the national funding agency that had sponsored the PI’s research. Six peer-reviewed articles published in as many journals would be far too much exposure: should the funders discover these “irregularities” the institution could be censured and its research programs jeopardized. The university’s senior counsel demanded that I sign a nondisclosure agreement with draconian consequences if I broke it, while stating that our previously brokered authorship agreement would not be legally binding. The PI, protected by the counsel, reneged on her proposal to transfer authorship. I requested “outside” mediation that would be legally binding on the PI, but it failed. I lost the authorship of my ideas as well as the possibility of continuing to work at this institution, along with the chance to receive a recommendation from anyone closely familiar with my contributions to the field from three and a half years of research and writing as a research faculty member there.

Because of past ethical breaches, anthropology has become attentive to the ethical protection of human subjects and the imperative to “cause no harm.” We teach our undergraduates how to cite the ideas of others to prevent plagiarism for which they may be expelled. However, graduate students and junior researchers have minimal or no protection when faculty superiors plagiarize their work. The enormous pressure on faculty to develop new ideas and innovative approaches makes creative and energetic graduate students and junior research associates vulnerable links in the professional chain. Given the hierarchical nature of the academy, the people who are dependent upon tenured faculty for their degrees and research employment have much in the way of intellectual and professional capital to lose. Yet, little or no institutional support exists to protect them against theft of their intellectual property or to ameliorate the professional consequences of its loss.

A Case of Collegial Bad Faith

Posted confidentially on the author’s behalf by the ethics blog editors

In this post I describe a situation of collegial bad faith in which I believe four of the ethical guidelines of the AAA were violated: Do no harm; Be open and honest; Weigh competing ethical obligations due collaborators and affected parties; and Maintain respectful and ethical professional relationships.

At the AAA meetings a few years ago, I presented a paper in an organized panel. Two years later, three of the four panel presentations were published in a respected journal. The excluded paper, mine, was a pointed critique of a theoretical position taken by the other three papers from a principled point of view. Thus, a carefully argued dissenting position was barred from published theoretical debate.

I use the word “excluded” advisedly, for I was not notified that any collective publication of the panel papers was underway, nor that mine was unwelcome among them. Immediately after the AAA panel, as the participants discussed the possibility of submitting their papers for publication, I asked whether, in the interest of open debate, they shouldn’t also include my dissenting views. The organizers indicated that my work “didn’t fit,” implying that they were not inclined to include it. But at that time the possibility of publishing the collected papers was only an idea. When I later discovered that the other papers had indeed been published, I submitted my original paper, with critiques of the three now published papers, to another journal. Not only did the other journal accept my paper, but the editor twice invited the authors of the other papers to respond to my critique of their work. Only the moderator of the original panel took the editor up on this invitation and contributed a response to the journal. My ten-point response to the moderator was also published in the same issue, rounding out the debate.

I read this exclusion as cowardly, unprofessional, self-interested, and inimical to the format of open debate by which scientific understanding of the world progresses. In considering ethical standards, it is tempting to look only at violations of commission. But there are also violations of omission, when someone does not do what they should have done in the interest of preventing harm, being open and honest, weighing ethical obligations toward colleagues, and maintaining respectful professional relationships.

In the present case, harm was done when the three panel papers were published together as if they were the only ones that had been presented. To fail to mention the very existence of a pointed dissenting voice was to imply that there was none: a patent untruth. The harm in question is the harm of failing to advance the discipline by allowing for the counter-position of multiple points of view.

The panel organizers were not being open and honest when they failed to notify me that the other papers were being published. Indeed, none of the other authors ever acknowledged that a debate was actually going on, that their position formed part of it, or that they had been invited to defend their work. In my view, they had an ethical obligation to consider the effect their actions had on their colleague’s career, and they impeded the progress of anthropological theory by ignoring my efforts to describe and explain humanness in all its manifestations simply because the approach I took to doing so differed from their own. It is not respectful, or honest, to ignore the constructive, relevant work of a colleague.