LINGUIST List 2.776

Tue 12 Nov 1991

Disc: Human Research

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Brian Given, 2.767 Human Research & ethics
  2. Robin J. Edmundson, RE: 2.763 Query: Human Research
  3. Natalie Maynor, Re: 2.767 Human Research

Message 1: 2.767 Human Research & ethics

Date: Sat, 09 Nov 91 14:16 EST
From: Brian Given <>
Subject: 2.767 Human Research & ethics
I agree with Joyce. It hasn't been that long since research
which could violate our informants' basic rights was pretty
routing, especially in psychology...but we have all been
guilty (I don't mean psych. at any particular university!).
 A member of an ethics committte once explained to me that
some of the research projects which were submitted to them
still involved injecting substances into the veins of naive
subjects (!).
 As I understand the policy, all research here at Carleton U. which
involves human beings as informants/subjects etc. MUST be cleared by
the ethics committee. The committee does seem to understand that
there are disciplinary differences in appropriate ethics. If I, as
an anthropologist, decide to do participant-observation research at
the Kumbh Mela in India, I could hardly be asked to get signed
consent forms from several million participants!
 The ethics procedure is simple enough. It usually takes
about two weeks although the committee was most helpful when
I needed clearance for a grant. I trotted the proposal to
all three members and had clearance within one day! NO
complaints here.
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Message 2: RE: 2.763 Query: Human Research

Date: Sat, 9 Nov 91 15:02:14 EST
From: Robin J. Edmundson <>
Subject: RE: 2.763 Query: Human Research
Linguists at Indiana University have to go through the same procedure
that all other research/ data gathering departments do. EVERY study
involving human subject must be cleared through the Human Subjects Comm.
We even have to fill out a form which asks if we will be using shock
treatment, gathering dental plaque, or using aborted fetuses. no kidding.
In my experience (7 years of grad school), as long as the objectives
of the study are clearly stated, the subjects are protected from embarrasment
and harm, it's no problem at all to get linguistics research cleared.
It is a hassle sometimes, though. Last year I started a study on english
apologies and wanted to give questionnaires to students in several L103
classes. The HSC wanted to know how such an activity fit into the curriculum,
whether or not they would get extra credit and if it would be anonymous.
My problem was that some of the instructors did give extra credit and some
didn't. HSC wouldn't clear it because in order to give extra credit, the
subjects could not remain anonymous. I finally resolved it by collecting
the data in a lecture called 'Linguistics Research Techniques'. The
instructors could give extra credit to whoever showed up and I just made
sure to collect all of the forms before the students left class. For
the past year, every time I talk to the HSC, I point out how silly the
whole thing is for linguists. They ignor me.
Robin J. Edmundson
Indiana University, Bloomington
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Message 3: Re: 2.767 Human Research

Date: Sun, 10 Nov 91 06:56:38 CST
From: Natalie Maynor <nm1Ra.MsState.Edu>
Subject: Re: 2.767 Human Research
> I am amazed that you do not have subjects sign informed consent
> forms for your research.
As one of the people who responded earlier, saying that we have to go
through the committee to do any kind of research involving human beings
in any way, I thought I should add something in view of Joyce's comment
above. I have not had to get the written permission of every subject.
Because I knew that not all of the informants I hoped to tape would be
literate, I found out that it was ok to get their permission on tape.
At the beginning of each interview, with tape recorder running, I
explained what I was doing and asked the informant if he/she would mind
being taped. (Before turning on the tape recorder, I had asked the same
question, of course.) I also found out that it was ok to be slightly
vague about the projects I was working on. I did not, for example, have
to tell the informants that my main interest at the moment was collecting
samples of the present tense of "be." I told them that I was collecting
tapes of local speakers to compare attitudes and speech of older and
younger people (true) and to see how things had changed in Oktibbeha
County over the years (true -- speech is a "thing"). In other words,
a wee bit of sneakiness is allowable under the law. And taped interviews
are often used for multiple purposes. Someday I may use the same tapes
for something other than counting verbs.
Natalie Maynor (
English Department, Mississippi State University
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