Saturday, October 31, 2009

Paul's Questions for 11/2

Paul’s Questions for 11-2

In the Hopf reading, the section on the principle of informed consent made me think of the observation Alex and I did at the Austin High School football game at the beginning of the semester. Again, this was a group setting with thousands of people there, unaware of our plans to observe. The German Code of Ethics apparently wants “temporarily deceived participants” to be given the chance to withdraw from participation after the fact. I understand that in certain cases you can’t explain the true purpose of an observation ahead of time, because it might spoil things. But in a public setting, what is ethical when you unintentionally recognize someone. Whether in Germany, or anywhere else, are they fair game to identify if relevant to the research?

The so-called “Springdale case” was interesting to me as a working journalist, because my news director has always maintained that we must do our best to minimize harm. That’s not to say that harm won’t be done. In fact, my news director argues that someone is inevitably harmed by a news story, so it’s our obligation to minimize that harm as much as possible through the words that we use and the images that we show. But ultimately it is up to journalists, or at least their editors, to make the determination of weighing this harm against the greater good. In the Springdale case, the participants were given fictitious names and a fictitious setting, yet were easily identified due to their roles. Even so, it was published for scientific progress. In the spirit of what my news director believes, is this what Hopf means in terms of research when stating that it’s not acceptable for committees of research ethics to make such publication decisions?

The Altheide and Johnson reading states that analytic realism is “based on the view that the social world is an interpreted world, not a literal world.” It also says that reflexivity means the observer is “part and parcel of the setting, context, and culture” being observed and represented. Isn’t this the case when journalists approach a story? While the reporter may not be part of the story that’s seen or read, clearly his or her view of the world has had an influence in the final product. What is observed may not be what was intended. A person arrested for a crime who is wearing a Chicago White Sox baseball cap, for instance, may be described as a baseball fan, when in fact is only wearing the cap because of gang colors – the interpreted world versus the literal world. At least ethnographers do, or should, strive to address the problems of validity, as this reading describes, “with straightforward and honest integrity.”

Also in the area of validity, I liked the description of ethnographers in the Altheide and Johnson article. It says that most ethnographers focus on the processes subjects use to create activities, and the established order involved. The article also states ethnographers use descriptions of language, nuances and routines as their foundation in reporting their findings. To me, it’s like comparing information in an encyclopedia on a topic to a news story on the same topic. If the topic is how surgery is done, for example, the encyclopedia may provide a step-by-step description, but the news story would detail the decision-making, routines, and feelings involved. Is this a fair analogy?

Hammersley (1992) is quoted in the Altheide and Johnson reading, stating that “research is a process of inquiry which is collective not individual,” and that assessing ethnography is more about “what we intend by ethnography.” Couldn’t the same thing really be said about quantitative analysis as well? There may be numbers and statistics used to make a case, but really, isn’t the method developed for both quantitative and qualitative research based on our individual beliefs?

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