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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The ethics of research using electronic mail discussion groups

The ethics of research using electronic mail discussion groups

This interesting article by Debbie Kralik, Jim Warren, Kay Price, Tina Koch and Gino Pignone from the University of South Australia, has just been published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, Vol 52, Issue 5, pp. 537-545.

The paper aims to identify and discuss the ethical considerations that have confronted and challenged the research team when researchers facilitate conversations using private electronic mail discussion lists as a collaborative data generation method.

The researchers experiences in the study have increased their awareness for ongoing ethical discussions about privacy, confidentiality, consent, accountability and openness underpinning research with human participants when generating data using an electronic mail discussion group. They describe how they worked at upholding these ethical principles focusing on informed consent, participant confidentiality and privacy, the participants as threats to themselves and one another, public-private confusion, employees with access, hackers and threats from the researchers.

They conclude that a variety of complex issues arise during cyberspace research that can make the application of traditional ethical standards troublesome, challenging traditional ethical definitions and calling into question some basic assumptions about identity and ones right to keep aspects of it confidential.

The use of electronic mailing lists (and asynchronous forums/bulletin boards, synchronous chat rooms etc) is still a novel research method, although growing in importance, and some of the lessons from these researchers are likely to be helpful to anyone else considering these methods. It is a significant contribution to the debates in this area.

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