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Ethics Task Force – Draft Principle: Be Open and Honest

Below you will find the draft principle for your review and comment.

As a reminder, the task force has been asked to undertake a thorough review of our current code of ethics, and to suggest revisions. We have begun a process of drafting revisions, and are asking for your involvement in that process.

In thinking about changes to our Code of Ethics, we reflected on what it is that a Code is supposed to do for its members. One purpose is to state clearly that anthropologists are responsible for engaging in an on-going process of ethical thinking and practice that grapples with dilemmas that necessarily emerge in conducting research and other aspects of our professional lives. Another is to assist faculty members and their students in teaching and learning about ethical dimensions and laying foundations on which anthropologists can continue to build throughout their careers. A third is to be of real value to anthropologists in the actual contexts in which they make ethical decisions. Finally, any conceived framework must be flexible enough to adapt to diverse circumstances and adjust to the wide range of contexts of anthropological practices, while providing core principles informing ethical practice in real-world situations.

Our sense is that a code of ethics can more squarely address the third and fourth challenges, but only if seen as one resource among many. No code or set of principles or guidelines can anticipate every unique circumstance of practice, nor dictate direct actions in specific situations; instead the pre-draft core principles to be presented here for your review and comment are meant to provide a preliminary place to start the ethical decision-making process. It is intended that these pre draft core principles can be readily recalled and applied in a continuum of research and practice contexts that extends from the initial planning stages in which there is ample time to anticipate ethical dimensions, to those in which  on-the-spot decisions must be made in the course of ongoing projects. As currently envisioned, the principles are to be followed by a brief discussion of the underlying values and beliefs on which the principles are based, as a means of helping foster the vital process of critical thinking about ethical issues in general, and constructing an ethical framework that addresses the specific challenges that are likely to emerge in a particular research project or other pursuit.

We do not address the issues of sanctions or enforcement; a wide range of opinions on such issues are held not only by the members of the Association but by members of the task force as well.  Regardless of viewpoint, however, the members of the task force agreed that a workable and appropriate code must be established before determining how it may be implemented or enforced.

When reading through the postings, please keep in mind: rather than incorporating all of the complexities and areas of concern — as well as all the unique concerns and situations particular to a given subdiscipline or context of anthropological practice — into a single document, we have sought to identify broad principles applicable to all anthropologists, principles which will be supported by layers of additional resources–explanatory text, examples from different contexts or areas of practice, case studies, and resources from other disciplines. We are asking for your involvement in drafting and refining these principles. We want to use your comments and suggestions to both revise the principles as appropriate and to help us determine if we’ve captured the concerns of the members, on the one hand, and the demands placed on the code on the other.

As you read through our blog postings over the next several months, please:

  1. carefully read each principle as it is posted to the blog, paying attention to the content  and thinking about its relevance to your practice
  2. make relevant comments and suggestions on the blog site in a timely manner.  Feel free to share personal stories, case examples, competing interpretations, etc.
  3. pay attention to the ongoing conversations about the principles and do background reading if you are late to join the discussion of a particular topic.

After all the principles have been posted, please let us know your thoughts about the document as a whole.

Thank you for being part of this important discussion.

The Task Force


Here is the draft principle for your review and comment:

Be open and honest regarding your work. Make your results accessible.

Anthropologists should be clear and open regarding the purpose, methods, outcomes, and sponsors of their work. Anthropologists must also be prepared to acknowledge and disclose to participants and collaborators all tangible and intangible interests that have, or may reasonably be perceived to have, an impact on their work.

Transparency, like informed consent, is a process that involves both making principled decisions prior to beginning the research and encouraging participation, engagement, and open debate throughout its course. Achieving transparency should not conflict with the primary obligation to avoid harm to the individuals, communities, environments, or resources being studied.

In general the results of anthropological research should be made freely available, except in cases where restricted dissemination serves to protect the confidentiality, privacy, safety, and/or dignity of participants, and/or protect cultural heritage or tangible or intangible cultural or intellectual property.  Dissemination of the results of anthropological research to the participants is expected; however, when sharing results with participants is deemed to be inappropriate the reasons must be clearly explained as part of the consent process so that all involved are aware of any reasonable limitations prior to consent.

Research that by design does not allow the anthropologist to know the full scope or purpose of a project (i.e. compartmentalized research ) is ethically problematic, since by definition the anthropologist cannot communicate transparently with participants, nor ensure fully informed consent.  Researchers who mislead participants about the nature of the research and/or its sponsors; who omit significant information that might bear on a participant’s decision to engage in the research; or who otherwise engage in clandestine or secretive research that manipulates or deceives research participants about the sponsorship, purpose, goals or implications of the research, are not fulfilling basic requirements for openness, honesty, transparency and fully informed consent.

6 Responses

  1. This principle is clear in its expectations, however broad. In the last paragraph, you stop short of saying if research misleads, omits important info, manipulates, or deceives, don’t do it. Why? State the action you recommend in those cases. It will help remove ambiguity, increase accountability, and help set clear guidelines for decision-making. Any principle will be open to interpretation, so make it as explicit as possible.

  2. I think this comprises two principles that should be separated, and here is why: The mechanism for being open and honest regarding your work is quite different than the mechanism for making “the results” of your work accessible. Being open and honest is the comparatively easier of the two, since it can be accomplished, at the simplest level, through a dialogic relationship with one’s interlocutors. Making your work accessible might be something you desperately wish to do; but if your interlocutors live a long and expensive plane ride away, if they are not all over internet and other technologies, and if they do not read the language in which you write, then significant resources are needed on your part to achieve the second principle of making your results accessible. Maintaining open lines of communication with research interlocutors by whatever means possible in an open-ended time frame is certainly achievable. I think what may help here is more clarity in what is meant by “results” in anthropological research.

  3. […] begin thinking about revisions, they are trying to identify core statements or principles (“Be open and honest regarding your work. Make your results accessible.“, “Balance competing ethical obligations due collaborators and […]

  4. “Be open and honest regarding your work. Make your results accessible.”

    I agree with Patty that these seem like two principles and applies to two different stages of the anthropological scientific/technical process – recruitment and validation.

    The first of the two principles applies to recruiting a subject and/or a client and/or sponsor. Be open about what your purpose and methods are, what you expect from the the subject/client/sponsor, and what the expected outcome or use of the product of your effort will be.

    This allows the subject et al the right to refuse to participate. The anthropologist is then ethically bound to respect the individual’s refusal to participate.

    The second principle included here is “make your results accessible.” is really a good scientific validation technique and practice. By accessible, the anthropologist is ethically obligated to the informants or individuals who are identified in the report to allow them the opportunity to confirm or deny the accuracy of the information credited to them.

    This also serves the function of validating the data. The anthropologist should be ethically bound to represent his/her sources accurately. This is done by making the cited information available to the subject/informant for verification.

    Anthropologists and anthropology deals with macro-level issues, not individuals. To assume otherwise is not to be an anthropologist but to practice some other discipline. Therefore, any other interpretation of accessible other than the validity issue runs into direct conflict with the principle of individual confidentiality. vs public disclosure (public defined as non-private).

    Therefore Principle Three should be reconsidered in terms of the two separate goals or purpose they are intended to serve..

  5. […] Be Open and Honest regarding Your Work. Make Your Work Accessible […]

  6. I’d like to hear a clarification of the meaning of the citation to articles on covert research by sociologists, which seem to at times make the case for covert methods (“the case for covert research in the face of much conventional opposition”). So, do the proposed guidelines themselves take a position against covert research? If so, the citations seem confusing.

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