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Questions for Sunbelt Session On Ethics of Network Data Collection
There will be a session led by me (Charles Kadushin) on this topic. I would
appreciate thought being given to the following issues. Please do not reply
on line, but if you can, come to the session with your thoughts. After
Cancun, I will summarize the discussion and raise the issues again for on
line discussion, following up on a previous flurry of on-line discussion.
Unlike most social science observation, social network data in principle
require tracking individual respondents or organizations (units) and their
interrelationships. Under what circumstances can individual unit identities
be revealed and when ought they not to be revealed? Some data are public
data to begin with, but even here there is an issue over the adequacy of
social network analyses to pinpoint the network location of individual
units with sufficient accuracy to take actions that have repercussions for
those units. Moreno, who invented sociometry, insisted that it was not
valid unless subjects knew that their answers would have consequences.
Since Moreno, the general tendency has been not to reveal individual
identities. The famous "Bank Wiring Room" omitted details that would have
revealed the identity of subjects. A practical issue is the reaction of
literate "natives" to the revelation of the details of their interrelations.
Some questions for discussion:
1. What are the personal experiences of session participants in data
collection: that is, what kinds of data have you collected, when, and under
2. Inherent in this question is: (a) are there different consequences
for different kinds of data collection; (b) in your experience, has the
climate and nature of network data collection changed over the past 20
years or whatever time frame your experience encompasses; (c) what
differences has the context made: e.g. academic research, or government or
3. What have been your own policies about confidentially or disclosure
under different circumstances? Have they changed over the years?
4. What has been the reaction of respondents to networks questions?
5. What has been the reaction of clients and people studied to the
publication of your reports on the research? Do you prepare one kind of
report for clients and another for general distribution?
6. If members of an organization have been the subjects of the
research, what kind of report should be made to them? Is it different from
the report that is made to those who paid for the research?
7. What about data based on publicly available data? Does it make a
difference if the data are such that considerable processing is required or
if the data are basically in a form that can be readily used for network
8. Are there special considerations for defense or law enforcement
analyses or consultation?
9. What have been your experiences with Institutional Review Boards?
10. Is there a bottom line to this discussion? General principles?
Should INSNA take a formal stand on any of these issues?
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