2. Be Open and Honest Regarding Your Work

Anthropologists should be clear and open regarding the purpose, methods, outcomes, and sponsors of their work. Anthropologists must also be prepared to acknowledge and disclose to participants and collaborators all tangible and intangible interests that have, or may reasonably be perceived to have, an impact on their work. Transparency, like informed consent, is a process that involves both making principled decisions prior to beginning the research and encouraging participation, engagement, and open debate throughout its course.

Researchers who mislead participants about the nature of the research and/or its sponsors; who omit significant information that might bear on a participant’s decision to engage in the research; or who otherwise engage in clandestine or secretive research that manipulates or deceives research participants1 about the sponsorship, purpose, goals or implications of the research, do not satisfy ethical requirements for openness, honesty, transparency and fully informed consent.2 Compartmented research3 by design will not allow the anthropologist to know the full scope or purpose of a project; it is therefore ethically problematic, since by definition the anthropologist cannot communicate transparently with participants, nor ensure fully informed consent.

Anthropologists have an ethical obligation to consider the potential impact of both their research and the communication or dissemination of the results of their research. Anthropologists must consider this issue prior to beginning research as well as throughout the research process. Explicit negotiation with research partners and participants about data ownership and access and about dissemination of results, may be necessary before deciding whether to begin research.

In their capacity as researchers, anthropologists are subject to the ethical principles guiding all scientific and scholarly conduct. They must not plagiarize, nor fabricate or falsify evidence,4 or knowingly misrepresent information or its source. However, there are situations in which evidence or information may be minimally modified (such as by the use of pseudonyms) or generalized, in order to avoid identification of the source and to protect confidentiality and limit exposure of people to risks.

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Supporting Resources

AAA Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities. 2007. Final Report. (“The Commission’s authorization by the Executive Board of the AAA in November 2005 was prompted in part by the question of whether or not the AAA should publish announcements of job positions, grants and fellowships offered by US security and intelligence organizations in Anthropology News.”)

AAA Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities (CEAUSSIC). 2009. Final Report on the Army’s Human Terrain System Proof of Concept Program.  (“In December of 2008, the Executive Board of the AAA asked CEAUSSIC to thoroughly review the Human Terrain System program, so that the AAA might then formulate an official position on members’ participation in HTS activities.”)

Adams, Richard N. 1971. “Responsibilities of the Foreign Scholar to the Local Scholarly Community.” Current Anthropology 12(3):335-339. (Adams’s article was presented with Joseph G. Jorgensen, “On Ethics and Anthropology” [pp. 321-334 of the same issue]; the articles are followed by comments from G. N. Appell, Harold Barclay, J. A. Barnes, Glynn Cochrane, Robert W. Ehrich, R. S. Khare, David Landy, Otto von Mering, Joe E. Pierce, and Richard B. Woodbury, an addendum by Delmos J. Jones [see below], and replies from both authors [pp. 340-356 of the same issue].)

Beals, Ralph. 1969. Politics of Social Research. Chicago: Aldine.

Beeman, William O. 1992. “Proprietary Research and Anthropological Ethics.” Anthropology News 33(9):21-22.

Condominas, George. 1973. “AAA Distinguished Lecture 1972: Ethics and Comfort: An Ethnographer’s View of His Profession.” AAA Annual Report 1972:1-17.

Cooper, Matthew. 2008. “Sharing Data and Results With Study Participants: Report on A survey of Cultural Anthropologists.” Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics 3(4):19-34.

Downing, Theodore E., and Jerry Moles. 2001. “The World Bank Denies Indigenous Peoples their Right to Prior Informed Consent.” Cultural Survival Quarterly 25(4):68-69.

Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn. 1991. “Ethics and Professionalism in Anthropology: Tensions Between its Academic and Applied Branches.” Business and Professional Ethics 10(4):1-10.

Fluehr-Lobban, Carolyn. 2003. “Informed Consent in Anthropological Research: We Are Not Exempt.” In Ethics and the Profession of Anthropology. 2nd ed. Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, ed. Pp. 159-177. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.

Johnston, Barbara Rose and Terrence Turner. 1998. “Censorship, Denial of Informed Participation, and Human Rights Abuses Associated with Dam Development in Chile.” Professional Ethics Report 11(2).

Jones, Delmos. 1971. “Social Responsibility and the Belief in Basic Research: An Example from Thailand.” Current Anthropology 12(3):347-350.

Price, David. 1989. Before the Bulldozer: The Nambiquara Indians and the World Bank. Cabin John, MD: Seven Locks Press.

Price, David H. 2007. “Buying a Piece of Anthropology, Part One: Human Ecology and Unwitting Anthropological Research for the CIA.” Anthropology Today 23(3):8-13.

Price, David H. 2007. “Buying a Piece of Anthropology, Part Two: The CIA and Our Tortured Past.” Anthropology Today 23(5):17-22.

Sieber, Joan E., ed. 1982. The Ethics of Social Research: Fieldwork, Regulation and Publication. New York: Springer-Verlag.

Notes

  1. Charlotte Allen, “Spies Like Us: When Sociologists Deceive Their Subjects,” Lingua Franca 7, no. 9 (1997).  (back)
  2. David Calvey, “The Art and Politics of Covert Research: Doing ‘Situated Ethics’ in the Field,” Sociology 42, no. 5(2008):905-918.  (back)

  3. In this document, when we use the term “compartmented,” we are referring generally to any research project in which the principal investigator is part of a research project, conducted on behalf of a third party, in which researcher has neither control nor knowledge about the overall goals, structure, purpose, sponsors, funding, and/or other critical elements of a project. Such projects may have government or private funding and may or may not entail classified information.

    Any research project that limits the anthropologist’s access to decisions, information and/or documentation that enables her/him to understand and responsibly explain the structure, goals, risks, and benefits of the research to potential subjects is problematic. This is because the researcher’s limited understanding and control makes it impossible to present potential participants with a clear and honest statement of risks, benefits, and outcomes.  (back)

  4. Department of Health and Human Services, “42 CFR Parts 50 and 93: Public Health Service Policies on Research Misconduct,” Federal Register 70, no. 94(2005):28370-28400.  (back)