This page is for information about research ethics.
Research on wiki communities
What are research ethics issues that arise from research projects that involve participants in wiki communities?
Ethical issues of informed consent
Is the following statement a valid formulation that applies to the kind of research in the Ethical Management of the English Language Wikipedia research project?
"Most research of Wikipedia does not involve ethical issues of informed consent. Because all contributions to Wikipedia are publicly released under the GNU Free Documentation License (see Wikipedia:Copyright), the analysis of publicly-available pages, archives, or logs is generally considered exempt from such requirements." (source)
Is action research a conventional and integral part of Wikimedia projects?
According to Wikipedia, action research is a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams or as part of a "community of practice" to improve the way they address issues and solve problems.
Does the above description of action research describe the normal process by which wiki participants examine the history of edits, identify problems and work together to solve problems?
Was the "Ethical Management of the English Language Wikipedia" research project an example of action research?
Does the Ethical Management of the English Language Wikipedia research project have all the features of action research? Was it significantly different from normal activities that characterize conventional community practices by which wiki communities learn from experience and change so as to accomplish community goals?
In Action Research, the subjects of the review are willing and cooperative partners in the review process, for the purpose of devising better practices, going forward. This was not the case for some of the subjects of the case studies, nor is it typically the case for RfCs and RfArs on Wikipedia. The latter are a summons which a named party ignores at their peril. The case studies at Wikiversity were not a summons that contemplated any act of judgment to be answered by some prescribed administrative sanction. Rather the purpose of those case studies was to explore the kind of ethical conundrum that perplexes those who seek to adopt ethical best practices when faced with unethical acts by those in power.
Questions about anonymous researchers
Is it ethical for participants in Wikiversity research projects to edit the project pages anonymously?
It has been suggested that Wikiversity research projects which involve analysis of wiki website editing bring with them the risk of producing attack pages. A page "that exists primarily to disparage its subject" might contain libelous statements. Would the best protection against this be to force researchers to first make their real world identities known before discussing specific editors? Is it a general ethical principle that researchers involved with human subjects take responsibility for their research by working and publishing under their real world identity?
User:Bduke notes that he does not do scientific research on people. In online cultures, there are real people who engage in role-playing games and dramas, where they adopt the persona of a fanciful avatar. There seems to be a fuzzy boundary between an actor or performer who portrays a character in some kind of performance art and the character being so portrayed. One of the legitimate purposes of literary criticism is to study archetypal characters who appear in significant stories and dramas. The frequent liminal social dramas that recur in online venues feature a number of recognizable archetypal characters, such as "troll" or "disruptive PoV pusher" or "anonymous coward" (just to name a few). How may we study these caricatured character types without running afoul of ethical guidelines on studying the actors who, from time to time, portray such dramatis personae in recurring online social dramas?
The goal of Wikimedia is to attract wiki website participants who can collaborate effectively so as to create educational online resources. There are obvious problems (example) that arise from allowing "everyone" to edit and edit anonymously. The community needs to be free to deal with such problems by making use of all available resources and methods. An available method for improving Wikimedia wiki projects is for Wikimedia participants to examine the edit history of Wikimedia wiki projects, study that history, learn from those studies and move ahead with revised community procedures that fix existing problems. This kind of action research is a normal part of how a wiki community improves itself. Mary Brydon-Miller and Davydd Greenwood made the point that action research by community members should not be subject to restrictions imposed by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). Wikiversity is the obvious place for Wikimedians to study the history of Wikimedia wiki projects and search for solutions to existing projects. Such action research should be welcomed by everyone in Wikimedia wiki projects. It provides an excellent opportunity for "learn by doing" projects where people can learn ethical research methodology while trying to improve Wikimedia wiki projects. The only draw-back seems to be that a few Wikimedians do not want their past editing at Wikimedia wiki projects to be subjected to study. Exploring why this is the case is itself an interesting topic for research.
It is ironic that past editing is frequently reviewed in adversarial proceedings such as an RfC, ANI, or an ArbCom case. The outcome of such adversarial reviews can run to alienation and ostracism. The benefit of action research is that it seeks to solve the problem at hand in a peaceable and constructive manner in which learning and personal growth is maximized and antagonism is minimized.
One can speculate on circumstances where action research is rejected by one of the parties to a conflict. Two possible reasons why a party might reject action research are bullying and corruption. Investigations into episodes of bullying and corruption have been problematic in WMF-sponsored projects. More often than not, such investigations take place off-wiki and occasionally bloom into public scandals, bringing individuals or the entire enterprise into disrepute.
- ETHICAL AND LEGAL ASPECTS OF HUMAN SUBJECTS RESEARCH ON THE INTERNET, workshop on conducting Internet research involving human subjects
- "A re-examination of the relationship between action research and human subjects review processes" by Mary Brydon-Miller and Davydd J. Greenwood Action Research, Vol. 4, No. 1, 117-128 (2006)
- INVESTIGATING INFORMATION SYSTEMS WITH ACTION RESEARCH by Richard L. Baskerville in Communications of the Association for Information Systems (1999) Volume 2, Issue 3es, Article No. 4