Tag Archives: research ethics

Little Albert experiment (1920) #researchethics

The Little Albert experiment was a case study showing empirical evidence of classical conditioning in humans. This study was also an example of stimulus generalization. It was carried out by John B. Watson and his graduate student, Rosalie Rayner, at Johns Hopkins University. The results were first published in the February 1920 issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

John B. Watson, after observing children in the field, was interested in finding support for his notion that the reaction of children, whenever they heard loud noises, was prompted by fear. Furthermore, he reasoned that this fear was innate or due to an unconditioned response. He felt that following the principles of classical conditioning, he could condition a child to fear another distinctive stimulus which normally would not be feared by a child.

Albert was only about eight months old at the time of the first test. Because of his age, the experiment today would be considered unethical by the American Psychological Association’s ethic code (see references). Since the experiment, and other later studies which pushed the boundaries of experimental ethics, legislation was passed to prevent unethical and potentially harmful experiments. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, the Public Health Service Act, and new required education in using human research participants was put into place by the National Institutes of Health in 2000. In the early 1970s, following widely publicized cases of research abuse, The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (NCPHS) was created to study issues surrounding the protection of humans in research. In 1979, the Commission issued a report entitled “Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research” (commonly called the “Belmont Report”), which provided the ethical framework which federal regulations for the protection of human participants in research are currently based on.Under the NCPHS standards set in the late 1970s, an experiment such as Watson’s would not have been allowed.

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Overscaled Urbanization (Tim Franco Captures the Overscaled Urbanization of Chongqing)

© Tim Franco These days, many of China‘s largest urban areas are easily recognizable to people from all over the world, with the skylines of coastal mega-cities such as Shanghai andBeijing taking their place in the global consciousness. Far less known though is the inland city of Chongqing – another of China’s five top-tier “National Central Cities” – where in 2010 the Chinese government embarked on a plan to urbanize a further 10 million of the region’s rural population, with around 1,300 people now moving into the city every day.

Since his first visit to the city in 2009 photographer Tim Franco has been on a mission to document the rapid change in what he believes is “maybe the most widely unknown megacity in the world.” The result is Metamorpolis, a forthcoming photographic book by Franco with text by British journalist Richard Macauley, which documents the colossal scale of development juxtaposed against the people of Chongqing – many of whom still live an incongruous rural lifestyle among the concrete sprawl. Read on after the break for more images from the book and an interview with Franco about the experience of documenting one of the world’s fastest-growing cities.

You are European, and based in Shanghai. What made you choose Chongqing for this project, instead of other Chinese cities?

Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and many of Chinese coastal cities are very famous world wide; everybody has seen them and knows about them. They are the ones which were developed first when the economy boomed in China. I really wanted to witness the fast urban development of the country but I felt that in Shanghai, I was a bit too late – all the famous images of the city have circulated worldwide.

That is why in 2009 I embarked on a small road trip to central China to visit some other secondary developing cities such as Wuhan, Chengdu and Chongqing. After a few days in Chongqing, I quickly understood it was the city I wanted to document. The most obvious reason is that this growing megalopolis is located right in between mountains and giant rivers, which give it a very unique scale. Most of the big cities in China are flat and extended but because of its unique geographical location, Chongqing is urbanizing through beautiful elements which gave the photos a very particular aesthetic. The second reason is that, being the latest province city to be created in China, and because of the different policies following the construction of the three gorges dam project, Chongqing was facing one of the fastest urbanization rates in the world. With almost two-thirds of Chongqing’s population still rural, the local government is trying to invert that trend and relocate a massive population of farmers into the city. I really felt that Chongqing was a representation of what was going on in the whole country, except in a rapid and city-scale simulation.

© Tim Franco

What was your impression as a European when you first experienced Chongqing?

My first week in Chongqing was thrilling! I felt like I was in Blade Runner, walking through dark alleys and getting lost in maze-like streets. Discovering different levels, taking elevators and cable cars to travel from one part of the city to the others. It looked to me like a chaotic and dark mix of Manhattan and Hong Kong. At that time, the local government was still chasing the giant mafia ring that controlled most of the city’s business for so many years: it felt like I was part of a movie! I couldn’t wait to go back there as soon as I left. It is kind of strange because the darkness and the mess of a city can be quite depressing and violent, but this also gives it a unique style and energy that made me want to photograph it even more.

You’ve already been documenting Chongqing’s urban expansion for five years. Have you noticed any changes in how the city is expanding?

The changes I have witnessed in Chonqqing are tremendous! I have seen entire districts disappearing in the center of the city. Some of the houses destroyed were witnesses to the Kuomintang era when Chongqing was the capital of China. I have seen farmlands on the North side of the city being taken over by concrete roads and housing complexes, with farmers continuing to plant vegetables between highways or on the side of construction sites.

I basically witnessed the entire center of the city growing into highrise glass towers, and luxury shops appearing like mushrooms on the main pedestrian street. In 2009, I was struggling to find good coffee in the morning – now I can have one on the 58th floor of the Westin Hotel overlooking the city, shop at H&M and get my new iPhone in the fancy Apple store that just opened. It’s almost unbelievable.

But it is also sad to see how the city is struggling with its originality, trying to copy other famous cities in the world, with a replica of Hong Kong IFC, a fake Zaha Hadid, or the new star project being build at the tip of the peninsula influenced by the Marina Bay Sands building in Singapore.

Do you think the people of Chongqing are adapting well to the city’s dramatic changes?

This is a tough question and according to who you ask in the city, you may get many different answers. As a Westerner walking in the city you are very quickly shocked by the amount of traditional architecture and old buildings being destroyed, almost like erasing signs of the past. But when talking to the people who lived in very poor conditions in some of those buildings with little access to electricity or basic heating, you understand why they are welcoming the transition to high rise building.

As ugly as they may look, they offer them a new level of comfort and a feeling of modernity. A feeling of becoming part of Chinese growth and not being left behind. But part of the population, especially people coming from the rural areas, are often struggling with the pace of urbanization. Often, the older generations don’t even know how to read or write. They find themselves moved to the city only knowing how to grow vegetables, so they start to find whatever land is available downtown to do the only thing they know how to do.

To be very honest I am very impressed by how the people in China learn to adapt. It seems whatever happens and whatever the difficulty, they always find a way to adapt, create small business and communities. Even though the city is growing at an incredible speed, every part of the city seems active.

© Tim Franco

One of the most striking things about your photographs is how you are able to simultaneously capture human-scale elements in the foreground with the huge buildings looming behind. Is there a particular camera setup you use for this or is it all about finding the right place to take a photo?

I am glad you brought this up, because it was exactly what I tried to do in this project! I used to shoot a lot of urban landscapes prior to this project and I only found my photos interesting when I added a human element to them, to give them scale and to see how the space was actually being used. This process was important for me in documenting Chongqing. I really wanted to show how the city was growing out of proportion and to give a very visual idea of how enormous these constructions and buildings are.

I don’t think there is a particular set up. I am using an old medium-format film camera, and I always try to spot the places with the city and the construction in the background and people in the foreground. This also allows me to be to invisible to the people I photographed so their action and behavior could be more natural in the photo. In general, I don’t like to force myself upon the people I photograph, so I either take a step back and photograph them in their environment or if I come closer, I engage them first in a conversation and explain to them what I am doing before taking a portrait.

© Tim Franco

Do you have a favorite place in Chongqing to search for photo opportunities?

I am not sure if I have a favorite place. The cable car running through the city (the one you can see on some of the photos and in particular on the video) is quite incredible because it takes you through the different layers of the city – actually, it used to do that, now half of those layers have been destroyed! In general, I am very attracted to every kind of place that gives you a sense of the scale of the city, with the rivers, the building, the mountains and the people.

How do you search out new places in the city that could be interesting?

These days, I rely on a network of people who are living in the city, both locals and foreign people that tell me about new places they discover. Often I also just find a place on the map I have never been to and take a taxi or a motorbike ride there. There is a good chance that on the way, I might find a new incredible place like a giant hole in the ground, some farmland in the middle of a construction site, or another architectural curiosity. For a while, I had a cheap motorbike which I purchased for about $200 USD and drove around the city and beyond. I sold it later for a little less.

© Tim Franco

What do you think the future holds for Chongqing?

It is going to be interesting to look at the future of Chongqing. It is certainly becoming one of the biggest cities in China, and it’s facing a very big challenge in urbanizing a very large rural population. A lot of of other cities are looking at Chongqing to see how those urbanizing policies will work for the economic and social future of the city. For me personally, even if part of the process ends with the book being finalized, I will still continue to document the city as it grows.

Original Source

Informed consent from vulnerable populations

I came across this article on Ebola, the high fatality rate disease that has outbreak in West Africa in recent months. The use of an experimental serum ZMapp has raised certain critiques for ethical reasons. I found very clear and appealing the way the writer explains the problems when it comes to ethical testing and deployment of a new treatment.

The trick to informed consent is that it has to be meaningful. It’s not enough to just tell subjects about the study; they need to understand what that means, and to be capable of saying or signing a document saying, “Yes, I understand, and I’m still willing to participate.” This leads us to a second major concern for ethical research: the treatment of vulnerable populations. There are some groups of people who by definition are unable to give meaningful informed consent. These include children, institutionalized persons (prisoners and those confined to mental health institutions), and anyone else who might not be capable of understanding the full implications of their decision to participate in a study.

First, the author emphasizes not only the importance of obtaining informed consent from subjects, but also the fact that such consent must be meaningful. Secondly, the treatment of vulnerable populations, i.e. those who are not entirely able to give meaningful informed consent. Although this article mainly refers to sanitary research, these circumstances are also possible within social science. These include children, disabled population or demented elderly population.

Another interesting piece of this article is the reference to informed consent when doing research in developing countries:

Most social scientists who do research in developing countries – myself included – have similar stories of subjects not understanding why they are being asked to sign an informed consent form; in their minds, agreement to talk to me is consent. Signing a document also leaves a record, which many subjects fear might somehow be used against them by political authorities, foreign spies, or others who are up to no good.

Finally, the way in which the Ebola dilemma seems to be solve by the World Health Organization:

The World Health Organization announced today that they are forming a panel of ethicists to consider whether and how ZMapp might be distributed among Ebola patients. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the urgency of Ebola, its high fatality rate, and the need to deliver effective treatment as quickly as possible must be taken seriously. Here’s hoping that the WHO ethicists can come to a quick conclusion, that ZMapp can be manufactured quickly, and that the drug will be responsibly distributed in a way that informs patients and their families to the fullest extent possible and allows researchers to learn more about how it works and doesn’t work in human populations. A cure for Ebola would be a wonderful thing indeed.

This may be seen as a possible solution to address other research ethical issues, i.e. the creation of a panel of ethicists.

Social Media in Social Research 2014 – 4th annual conference

New Picture (34)

The SRA is pleased to announce the 4th annual conference on Social Media in Social Research. This one-day event at the British Library in central London will feature these presentations:

  • Uninformed consent and social media research.  Dan Nunan, Henley Business School. In social media research, is informed consent possible without limiting access to the most valuable data? Do we rely on a set of ethical norms that are outdated in the internet era, and are there alternative and more effective approaches to consent?
  • Using social network analysis for social media in social research.  Dhiraj Murthy, Goldsmiths, University of London. This presentation will explore the use of mixed-method Social Network Analysis (SNA) to interpret social media in social research contexts. Methods of visualization will be discussed using Twitter and other social media data.
  • The Collaborative Online Social Media ObServatory: a progress report.  Rob Procter, University of Warwick. Rob will outline the main features of the Collaborative Online Social Media ObServatory (COSMOS) and demonstrate their application through examples of current research by the COSMOS team. He will also give a brief overview of development plans.
  • The ESRC’s social media agenda.  Samantha McGregor, ESRC. This presentation will outline the ESRC’s current thinking and future plans for social media data and research. This will also be an interactive session, with delegates encouraged to ask questions and discuss future priorities.
  • A social media case study – Facebook and Scottish independence.  Preriit Souda and Alastair Graham, TNS BMRB. An analysis and graphical representation of the thousands of conversations and influencers of the two campaigns in the Scottish Independence debate, together with results of opinion polling on voting intentions and attitudes, relating these to the Facebook analysis.
  • The social media challenge within the Food Standards Agency.Dr Joanna Disson and James Baker, FSA. The FSA’s communications and social science teams  are working together on the opportunities presented by social media. Where does communication end and research begin? When does ‘insight’ become ‘data’ and are the right skills in place to enter this new territory?
  • Analysing digital activism: The use of multi-layered digital ethnography in the social sciences.  Suay Ozkula, University of Kent. A case study of digital activism based on research with Amnesty International, using online and offline ethnographic observation, and short-term and long-term social media monitoring, as well as interviews with Amnesty staff and online participants.

Panel discussion: The future of social media research

Date: May 1, 2014

Start Time: 10:30 am

End Time: 4:30 pm

Price: £105.00

Further details: http://the-sra.org.uk/event-registration/?ee=151

2014 Contemporary Ethnography Across the Disciplines Hui

Kia ora koutou! The third international Contemporary Ethnography Across the Disciplines (CEAD) hui has been announced. The conference CEAD 2014: Sensual Landscapes of Ethnography will take place from 25-28 November 2014 and will return to the beautiful campus of the University of Waikato in Hamilton in Aotearoa New Zealand. The CEAD, an international ethnography conference and hui, welcomes all forms of engagement in ethnographic disciplinary practice, and aims to stimulate rich intellectual discourse. As a Southern Hemisphere conference, it offers a richness of perspective that is slightly counter to the dominant, hegemonic worldview of many ethnographic pieces; for example, informed by a Kaupapa Māori wordview of “research,” discussions of participant/researcher “ethics” take on a decidedly-richer, more nuanced, view. Researchers and practitioners from across the disciplines of law, anthropology, arts & letters, education, geography, health, management, business, psychology, sociology, cultural, and ethnic and gender studies – and any other discipline where ethnography advances scholarship and public understanding of the way groups and individuals interact and live their lives into being – are invited to share in the rich diversity that the conference and hui provides.

The major theme for the hui is Sensual Landscapes of Ethnography and there are three major content streams for exploration (read more about each one here):

  1. Emerging Methods: Traditional, Experimental and Transgressive Forms
  2. Praxis and Advocacy: Doing Ethnography on the Ground
  3. Social Justice and Transformation: Theoretical Ethnographic Visions

Further info here

What is ethics in research and why is it important?

Cartoon by Paul Mason. According to the Australian National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (henceforth referred to simply as the "Australian National Statement"), human research is any investigation that is conducted with people, about people, on tissue from people, or using data concerning people.

Cartoon by Paul Mason. According to the Australian National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research (henceforth referred to simply as the “Australian National Statement”), human research is any investigation that is conducted with people, about people, on tissue from people, or using data concerning people.

In 1946 the atrocities committed by Nazi scientists in the name of research were investigated in War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg. 16 doctors and administrators were found guilty of “willing participation in the systematic torture, mutilation, and killing of prisoners in experiments”. This led to development of the Nuremberg Code in 1947, the first international code of research ethics.

Hence, to address the question “what is ethics in research and why it is important” one should first consider the next question: “is the only aim to do the best work?” If so, ethical issues may be underestimated. It was actually the defense of Nazi scientists. Far from this horrifying precedents, still in today’s social research we need to handle many ethical issues. Dealing with such topics as illness, politic, religion or sexuality, among others; participant’s interest must be safeguarded. Above all, acting ethically in research means protecting participants’ interests and rights. Five more important issue must be highlighted:

1. Exploitation of participants. Until the 1970’s highly unethical social and medical studies were common. A good example was the experiment among a group of 399 African American men afflicted with syphilis unknowingly from 1930s to 1970. Although there is no evidence that in today’s social research these kind of cases still exist there may be situation when researcher’s interest are over the participant´s interests.

2. Deception. When a field interviewer misrepresents the true purpose of research it is considered deception. The participant lies to participants to obtain information he/she could not otherwise obtain. It may happen when, for example, the interviewer pretends he/she is a student in a certain subject in order to obtain critical information about a competitor.

3. Overlook informed consent. Researcher should obtain an informed consent of participants. “Informed consent” means that an individual or community understands what is going to happen if they agree to take part of a social experiment or be interviewed for a study or survey. Researchers have to entirely inform subjects about what they will be taking, the risks of participation and non-participation, and how the data generated from the study will be used (ie, the findings might be published in an academic journal and promoted in a newspaper). The trick to informed consent is that it has to be meaningful (Seay, 2014). It’s not enough to just tell subjects about the study; they need to understand what that means, and to be capable of saying or signing a document saying, “Yes, I understand, and I’m still willing to participate.” This leads us to a second major concern for ethical research: the treatment of vulnerable populations. There are some groups of people who by definition are unable to give meaningful informed consent. These include children, institutionalized persons (prisoners and those confined to mental health institutions), and anyone else who might not be capable of understanding the full implications of their decision to participate in a study.
Furthermore, the publication of information from personal interviews or focus group must either obtain the explicit consent of the people involved or omit personal details to protect identities. In case the participant recognizes himself or herself in the publication and feels unpleasant, researcher may be in trouble.
4. Harm people in collecting data. The interviewer’s questions may confront people with sensitive issues, like the severity of illness or the lack of prospect in their future life. In some cases, it may produce an internal crisis for these people. It is an ethical responsibility reflects about taking such risks for the sake of the research.

5. Personal data protection. The danger of misuse personal data has led government to increase legislation on this issue. A good example is the implementation of the European Union Directive 95/46/EC. This provides protection for individuals in relation to the processing, storing and movement of data. As a researcher, one may face this kind of situations, especially as to personal data of potential participants in focus group. Market research companies usually own their own dataset with potential participants. To communicate with then, details as address or phone number must be stored. For this reason, it is recommendable to compliance the current legislation. As long as personal information is processed and stored in the research’s computer, a number of legal rules must be compliance.Finally, research ethics has a lot to do with reflection and sensitiveness. Apart from the formal rules and norms, safeguard participants’ interest requires a constant exercise of reflection and sensitiveness from the researcher. A good way to do so is try to take participants’ role and think from their perspective. How would one feel?


Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited

Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

NIH, Protecting Human Research Participants, p.11-13; http://phrp.nihtraining.com/users/pdf.php

Seay, Laura. “Ebola, research ethics, and the ZMapp serumThe Washington Post 6 August 2014:

Silverman, D. (2011). Interpreting qualitative data. Sage Publications Limited.