Logo Utrecht University

Utrecht Data School

News

Presentation: Revisiting Standards of Research Integrity

Gerwin van Schie, Irene Westra and Mirko Tobias Schäfer presented their research on ethical challenges in data-driven research at the workshop “Standards, Disruptions and Values in Digital Culture and Communication”.

As novel data-driven methods stir up some dust within departments that were seldom confronted with questioning their own professional standards of conduct. With unprecedented access to vast data resources and innovative tools to collect and connect large numbers of data points, the situation is rapidly changing. Not only do require these digital humanities projects skillful interdisciplinary cooperation, they even request collaboration with programmers, entrepreneurs, corporations and organizations who contribute technology support, data collection, data hosting or other services. Most importantly, ethical issues are raised by data practices. The manipulation of user timelines in the so-called Facebook study carried out at Cornell University is only one of many examples that alerted Institutional Review Boards. However, the qualities of available (big) data sets and the emerging data practices do not always afford a practice that complies with traditional standards of research integrity.

Van Schie, Westra and Schäfer argue that the existing ethical guidelines are from discourses and times that have very little to do with Big Data research as it is being done now. They claim that the concept of informed consent, a basic principle of all guidelines, is practically infeasible in big data research on social networking sites. In order to be able to conduct research in a responsible way, they presented a sketch of the Utrecht Data School’s concept for safe data exploration.