Anthropologists have an ethical responsibility1 for ensuring the integrity, preservation, and protection of their work. This obligation applies both to individual and collaborative or team research. An anthropologist’s ability to protect and use the materials collected may be contingent upon complex issues of ownership and stewardship.2 In situations of disagreement, contestation, or conflict over ownership, the primary assumption that the researcher owns her or his work product applies, unless otherwise established. Other factors (source of funding, employment agreements, negotiated agreements with collaborators, legal claims, among others) may impact ownership of records.3 Anthropologists should determine record ownership relating to each project and make appropriate arrangements accordingly as a standard part of ethical practice. This may include establishing by whom and how records will be stored, preserved, or disposed of in the long term.
Further, priority must be given to the protection of research participants, as well as the preservation and protection of research records. Researchers have an ethical responsibility to take precautions that raw data and collected materials will not be used for unauthorized ends. To the extent possible at the time of data collection, the researcher is responsible for considering and communicating likely or foreseeable uses of collected data and materials as part of the process of informed consent or obtaining permission. Researchers are also responsible for consulting with research participants regarding their views of generation, use and preservation of research records. This includes informing research participants whether data and materials might be transferred to or accessed by other parties; how they might be transformed or used to identify participants; and how they will be stored and how long they will be preserved.4
Researchers have a responsibility to use appropriate methods to ensure the confidentiality and security of field notes, recordings, samples or other primary data and the identities of participants. The use of digitalization and of digital media for data storage and preservation5 is of particular concern given the relative ease of duplication and circulation. Ethical decisions regarding the preservation of research materials must balance obligations to maintain data integrity with responsibilities to protect research participants and their communities against future harmful impacts. Given that anthropological research has multiple constituencies and new uses such as by heritage communities, the interests of preservation ordinarily outweigh the potential benefits of destroying materials for the preservation of confidentiality. 6 Researchers generating object collections have a responsibility to ensure the preservation and accessibility of the resulting materials and/or results of analyzed samples, including associated documentation.
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“Data management” in the social sciences, including all fields of anthropology, entails just about everything related to doing research: ethics, law, intellectual property, publication, research ethics, institutional review boards. The Internet affords to researchers a tremendous amount of information about the development and management of datasets. As such, the following list should be treated as a starting point for research on data management issues in the social sciences.
It’s also worth noting that most professional associations, as well as universities, federally-funded research and development centers (FFRDC), funding agencies, private companies, and other research organizations have developed institutional policies and regulations regarding data collection, management, safeguarding, and retention. Before you begin collecting data, it’s probably wise to familiarize yourself with relevant resources, policies, procedures and helpful administrators at your institution; and to make sure that your research plans address any data management concerns raised by your funding agency.
The Council on Government Relations, which represents over 150 research universities in the United States, is an excellent clearinghouse for information about federal funding of university research, including state, federal, and academic policies related to data management and retention. Specific to data management is the CGR’s free 40-page discussion of issues related to management and retention of data, including case studies and scenarios: COGR, Access to and Retention of Research Data Rights and Responsibilities (2006).
The Office of Research Integrity at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides general guidance on issues related to data ownership and custody: Nicholas H. Steneck, ORI Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research (2004).
Data Management in the Social Sciences
Anthropologists have published a number of handbooks dealing with research methods and ethics, many of which provide guidance on the responsible management and stewardship of research data. Examples include:
Bernard, H. Russell. 2006. Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches. Lanham, MD: Altamira.
Denzin, Norman, and Lincoln, Yvonna S. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. 1994. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Scarre, Christopher, and Scarre, Geoffrey. 2006. The Ethics of Archaeology: Philosophical Perspectives on Archaeological Practice. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Turner, Trudy. 2005. Biological Anthropology and Ethics: From Repatriation to Genetic Identity. Albany, NM: SUNY Press.
Vitelli, Karen D., and Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh. 2006. Archaeological Ethics. Lanham, MD: Altamira.
In the social sciences, it is common practice for researchers to archive and share quantitative datasets. However, the archiving and sharing of qualitative data is less common, though electronic data collection and archiving may facilitate wider access to qualitative research datasets:
Bishop, Libby. 2009. “Ethical Sharing and Reuse of Qualitative Data.” The Australian Journal of Social Issues 44(3): 255-272.
Broom, Alex, Lynda Cheshire, and Michael Emmison. 2009. “Qualitative Researchers’ Understandings of their Practice and the Implications for Data Archiving and Sharing.” Sociology 43(6): 1163-1180.
Carusi, Annamaria and Jirotka, Marina. 2009. “From Data Archive to Ethical Labyrinth.” Qualitative Research 9(3): 285-298
Parry, Odette, and Natasha Mauthner. 2004. “Whose Data Are They, Anyway?” Sociology 38(1): 139- 152.
Anthropological research increasingly involves on-line research studies, which raise particular concerns about data validity, privacy, confidentiality, collection, and management. A good starting point for assessing these issues is the 1999 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) report: Mark S. Frankel and Sanyin Siang, “Ethical and Legal Aspects of Human Subjects Research in Cyberspace” (Washington D.C.: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1999). Despite being 12 years old, this report remains most frequently cited resources on this topic.
The University of Michigan’s Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research has extensive resources and information related to data management, including tutorials and educational materials on electronic information retention and archiving.
The Digital Archaeological Record is an electronic repository to facilitate the archiving and sharing of archaeological data.
The Council of European Social Science Data Archives provides guidance on the development, annotation, archiving, and management of social science data, as well as an extensive discussion of ethics, rights and responsibilities in the collection, management, and sharing of social science data.
The Smithsonian Institution maintains a database of its anthropology collections; equally interesting are the links to and discussions of the role of databases in the Smithsonian’s efforts to manage its complex stakeholder relationships. See also “Accessing Anthropology: The Collections and Archives Program at the Department of Anthropology.”
Preservation and Retention
Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records (COPAR). N.d. Links to ethnographic archives, sites about anthropologists, and resources for anthropologists.
Golla, Victor. 1995. “The Records of American Indian Linguistics.” In Preserving the Anthropological Record. 2nd ed. Sydel Silverman and Nancy J. Parezo, eds. New York: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.
Griset, Suzanne, Arthur W. Vokes, and Catherine Sarther. 2004. Requirements for the Preparation of Archaeological Project Collections for Submission to the Arizona State Museum. Tuscon: Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona.
International Council of Museums. 2010. “CIDOC: Supporting Museum Documentation.”
Leopold, Robert. 2008. “The second life of ethnographic fieldnotes,” Ateliers du LESC 32:n.p.
Leopold, Robert. 2009. “Guide to Anthropological Fieldnotes and Manuscripts in Archival Repositories.”
National Anthropological Archives. N.d. “NAA Donating FAQs.” Smithsonian Institution.
Silverman, Sydel. N.d. “Why Preserve Anthropological Records?” CoPAR Bulletin 1.
Sullivan, Lynne P., and S. Terry Childs. 2003. Curating Archaeological Collections: From the Field to the Repository, Archaeologist’s Toolkit 6. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.
Wilson, Thomas H., and Nancy J. Parezo, “The Role of Museums.” In Preserving the Anthropological Record. 2nd ed. Sydel Silverman and Nancy J. Parezo, eds. New York: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.
Research Data and Intellectual Property
See Footnote 2.
- Sydel Silverman, “Why Preserve Anthropological Records?” CoPAR Bulletin 1 (n.d.); see also the following in Sydel Silverman and Nancy J. Parezo, eds., Preserving the Anthropological Record, 2nd ed. (New York: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 1995): Victor Golla, “The Records of American Indian Linguistics“; John Van Willigen, “The Records of Applied Anthropology“; Sue E. Estroff, “The Records of Medical Anthropology”; Michael A. Little, Jane E. Buikstra, and Frank Spencer, “The Records of Biological Anthropology“; Don D. Fowler and Douglas R. Givens, “The Records of Archaeology.” (back)
The National Science Foundation now requires prospective Principal Investigators to submit a Data Management Plan with all proposals. See National Science Foundation, “Data Management and Sharing Frequently Asked Questions.” Further guidance and resources about data management plans are available from the University of California’s DMPTool.
The National Institutes of Health requires data sharing (“NIH Data Sharing Policy“). In 1999, the Office of Management and Budget issued a revision to OMB Circular A-110, which requires that Federal agencies that award research and development dollars ensure that all data be available to the public under the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. A discussion of the changes and the text of the revision, which went into effect in November 1999, is available at: Office of Management and Budget, “OMB Circular A-110: Uniform Administrative Requirements for Grants and Agreements With Institutions of Higher Education, Hospitals, and Other Non-Profit Organizations,” Federal Register 64, no. 195(1999):54926-54930.
Anthropologists who pursue federal projects that result in the development of intellectual property, particularly those which generate licenses and/or patents, should be aware of the University and Small Business Patent Procedures Act, popularly known as the Bayh-Dole Act, as well as their own institutions’ policies regarding intellectual property and technology transfer. Bayh-Dole is the 1980 legislation that enabled universities to assume exclusive control over intellectual property resulting from federally-funded research and development, for the purpose of further development, transfer to industry, commercialization and provision to the public.
The University of California Technology Transfer Office has republished a COGR-developed overview of the history and impact of the Bayh-Dole Act:. Council on Governmental Relations, “The Bayh-Dole Act: A Guide to the Law and Implementing Regulations” (1999). The National Council of University Research Administrators has published a monograph on intellectual property issues in university research: Ann M. Hammersla, A Primer on Intellectual Property (Washington, D.C.: National Council of University Research Administrators, 2006). (back)
David H. Price, “Anthropological Research and the Freedom of Information Act,” Cultural Anthropology Methods 9, no. 1 (1997):12-15. (back)
Mary Elizabeth Ruwell, “The Physical Preservation of Anthropological Records” in Sydel Silverman and Nancy J. Parezo, eds., Preserving the Anthropological Record, 2nd ed. (New York: Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, 1995). (back)
- For informational and instructional materials on archiving and preserving qualitative data, see the following resources:
Irish Qualitative Data Archive and Tallagt West Childhood Development Initiative. “Best Practice in Archiving Qualitative Data.”
UK Data Archive. “Create and Manage Data.”
Denise Thomson, Lana Bzdel, Karen Golden-Biddle, Trish Reay & Carole A. Estabrooks. “Central Questions of Anonymization: A Case Study of Secondary Use of Qualitative Data.” FQS: Forum: Qualitative Social Research 6(1).
For information on anonymization software, see:
University of Pennsylvania Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health page on QualAnon software
and the Irish Qualitative Data Archive (IQDA) Qualitative Data Anonymizer.
For information on data repositories, visit:
Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, the Qualitative Data Repository, and the UK Data Service. (back)
Filed under: Full Text of the 2012 Ethics Statement