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Roger Clarke's Ethics of Research Publication

Ethical Issues in the Preparation and Submission of Research Papers in the I.S. Discipline

Roger Clarke

Version of 6 December 2000

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 2000

This document was prepared as a basis for a presentation as part of the Panel on 'IS Research Ethics: Defining Ethical, Barely Ethical and Unethical Behavior', at ICIS 2000 in Brisbane, 12 December 2000

Incorporated within 'Research Ethics in Information Systems: Would a Code of Practice Help?' Commun. Association for Infor. Syst. 7, 4 (July 2001) (with R. Davidson, N. Koch and K.D. Loch)

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The term 'ethics' is subject to many interpretations. In this document, I am intending to refer to moral philosophy, or the body of principles governing right and wrong.

Many observers would be likely to interpret ethics as being confined to abstract judgements about good and evil. An alternative approach to ethics is instrumentalist, in that bodies of principles are expected to have volitional or motivational power, and thereby influence actors' behaviour. For example, "policy makers ... [must] understand the ethical problems of the impact of computer technology on the lives of people. This professional and applied strand must be underpinned by a philosophical examination which builds on the long history of the study of ethics" (Weckert 1999, p.ii); and "Ethics has been defined as involving the systematic application of moral rules, standards, or principles to concrete problems" (Davison 2000).

The ICIS 2000 Conference included a session in which the panellists and audience were invited to reflect on the ethics of their own and their colleagues' behaviour. The purpose of the panel was to investigate what information researchers see as being ethical, barely ethical, and downright unethical behaviour in the conduct of I.S research.

The Panel Chair was Ned Kock (Temple University, Philadelphia, PA), and the topic-area was divided into three aspects, each addressed by a different panellist:

This document relates only to the second of these topics, i.e. the preparation and submission of research papers. A dry-as-dust catalogue of issues is provided at the end of this document. The panel session focussed on a pair of scenarios, which attempt to bring the issues to life.


The following two scenarios are fictions based on a wide array of experiences and a small amount of imagination. It would be nice to think that any resemblance between them and reality was accidental; but this is the real world.

Scenario 1

Pat is a postgraduate research student, and is running out of time. Pat's supervisor suggests (fairly firmly) that it's about time a publishable research paper was produced, and nominates the conference that it is to be submitted to. Pat knows that the work is not yet far enough advanced, but also knows that the candidature is at risk, and rushes to meet the deadline for the Call for Papers.

Pat produces a draft, slightly glossing the outcomes in the hope that the supervisor will accept it. After all, the results will be available by the time the conference accepts the paper and requires submission of the revised version.

Pat's supervisor is dissatisfied with both the description of the research method, and the results. The supervisor requires Pat to include more impressive results, and provides wording for the research method. Pat is uncomfortable with the revised description of the research method, because it implies a process rather different from what was actually done.

The supervisor also states that one of the supervisor's own papers should be cited in the explanation of the underlying theory, and suggests that it would be tactically sensible to also cite two other papers authored by members of the conference's programme committee. Pat didn't use the supervisor's paper, and was only vaguely aware of the other two papers.

The supervisor spends an amount of time on editing the paper, suggests that the supervisor's name should be included on the list of authors, and floats the possibility of the Research Director being added as well, because the research was conducted within a broad programme the Director devised some years ago, and used a database purchased using one of the Director's research grants.

In fear of not being given the vital extension of time to submit the thesis, Pat does what Pat is told, amends and embellishes the paper, and submits it.

In due course, the paper is 'Accepted subject to recommended revisions being made'. One referee wants a more detailed description of the research method. This is difficult, because the description in the draft is rather different from that which was actually used, and a more detailed description of what was done would make it obvious that the draft was misleading.

A second referee wants the outcomes examined in greater detail. This also creates a problem, because the more detailed data analysis undertaken in the meantime has shown that the some of the surmised outcomes were incorrect.

The second referee also queries the source of a block of text that seems familiar, and whose style is different from the rest of the paper. Pat thinks that there's a missing citation at the end of that segment, but it was extracted from notes taken at the beginning of the project, and Pat can't remember where it came from.

The Programme Chair wants some further editing performed. One of the problems is that many of the references lack page-numbers. Some of these can be found, but some can't. In a few cases, the only copy of the paper that Pat ever found was in a distant library. In others, Pat relied on citations in other papers, has never seen the paper in question, and doesn't know where to find it.

Pat is worried. Pat goes to the supervisor and asks for advice.

What should the supervisor advise Pat?

Scenario 2

Lauren has recently completed a doctorate, and is now working within a research programme that is generously funded by a major I.T. provider.

Rather than being free to select topics within the attractively broad framework defined in the research programme's Terms of Reference, Lauren discovers that topic choice is heavily constrained. This is not so much as a result of overt pressure from the sponsor, as from nervousness on the part of the Director about what the sponsor will think about some of the possible projects that are dreamt up by recently-graduated staff-members, still imbued with the 'consumer liberation' notions inculcated by the Internet.

On the other hand, Lauren is attracted by the facilities that the programme has available to it, and that are not available to regular teaching staff, the access provided to unpublished sources, especially the internal white papers, specifications and other commercial-in-confidence materials of the sponsor and its strategic partners, and the twice-yearly participation in exciting international conferences.

Then Lauren starts hearing about how papers are reviewed by senior members of the programme prior to being submitted for refereeing. Although this has its benefits, in the form of a preliminary peer review, it commonly results in the withholding or at least 'vaguing up' of information that has potential commercial significance, and the suppression of discussion about negative aspects of technologies.

What alternatives does Lauren have?

A Working Catalogue of Issues

The following lists identify actions that might be considered to be unethical, at least under some circumstances. The actions are loosely gathered into major topic-areas, and the topic-areas presented in something like the chronological sequence in which they tend to arise. In some cases, 'flavours' or variants of the issue are drawn out by suggesting different contexts that may be associated with the action.


Sponsorship includes:

Issues include:


'School of' Manoeuvres

Depiction of Research Method


Plagiarism is the use (or 'appropriation') of pre-existing material by the author of a new work in such a manner that it appears to be claimed to be an original contribution by that author, in particular because of the absence of a citation of the original work. The categories below follow Martin (1994) [would I dare to omit that citation ???]

References and Citations

Depiction of the Research's Significance

Consideration of the Research's Implications

Economic Considerations

'Political Correctness'


References [or should that be 'Bibliography?!]

'Accountability in Research' journal, at

Bird S.J. & Dustira A.K. (Eds.) (1999) 'Misconduct in Science: Controversy and Progress' Special Issue, Science and Engineering Ethics 5, 2 (April 1999), at

Clarke R. (1988) 'Economic, Legal and Social Implications of Information Technology' MIS Qtly 12,4 (December 1988) 517-9, at

Clarke R. (1994) 'Appropriate Research Methods for Electronic Commerce' Version of 19 April 2000, at

Clarke R. (1993) 'Asimov's Laws of Robotics: Implications for Information Technology' In two parts, in IEEE Computer 26,12 (December 1993) 53-61, and 27,1 (January 1994) 57-66, at

Clarke R. (1995c) 'Information Technology & Cyberspace: Their Impact on Rights and Liberties' Invited Presentation to the 'New Rights' Seminar Series, Victorian Council for Civil Liberties, Melbourne, 13 September 1995, at

Clarke R. (1999a) 'Freedom of Information: The Internet as Harbinger of the New Dark Ages', Proc. Conf. Freedom of Information and the Right to Know, Melbourne, August 1999, at

Clarke R. (1999b) '"Information Wants to be Free"', revision of February 2000, at

Clarke R. (1999c) 'Ethics and the Internet: The Cyberspace Behaviour of People, Communities and Organisations', Proc. Conf. Aust. Ass. for Professional and Applied Ethics, Canberra, October 1999. Revised version published in Bus, & Prof'l Ethics J. 18, 3&4 (1999) 153-167, at

Davison, R.M. (2000) 'Professional Ethics in Information Systems: A Personal Perspective' Commun. AIS 3, 8 (2000) 1-34, at

Davison R.M. & Kock N. (2000) 'ISWorld Page on Professional Ethics', at

'Ethics and Information Technology' journal, at

Garte S.J. (1995) 'Guidelines for Training in the Ethical Conduct of Scientific Research' Science and Engineering Ethics 1, 1 (1995) 59-70, Abstract at

Kock N.F. (1999) 'A Case of Academic Plagiarism' Commun. ACM 42, 7 (July 1999) 96-104

Martin B. (1992) 'Scientific Fraud and the Power Structure of Science', Prometheus 10, 1 (June 1992) 83-98, at

Martin B. (1994) 'Plagiarism: a misplaced emphasis' Journal of Information Ethics, 3, 2 (Fall 1994) 36-47, at

Mason, R.O. (1986) 'Four Ethical Issues of the Information Age', MIS Quarterly 10, 1 (January 1986) 5-12

Medawar P. (1964) 'Is the scientific paper fraudulent? Yes; it misrepresents scientific thought' Saturday Review, 1 August 1964, pp. 42-43, cited in Martin (1992) at fn. 4

Munthe C. & Wein S. (1996) 'The Morality of Scientific Openness' Science and Engineering Ethics 2, 4 (1996) 411-428, Abstract at

Nichols S.P. & Skooglund C.M. (1998) 'Friend or Foe: A Brief Examination of the Ethics of Corporate Sponsored Research at Universities; A Response to `Ethics and the Funding of Research and Development at Universities' (Spier) Science and Engineering Ethics 4, 3 (1998) 385-390, Abstract at

Onken M., Garrison S. & Dotterweich S. (1999) 'Research Ethics Among AACSB Faculty and Deans: Why Isn't There More Whistleblowing?', Journal of Information Ethics 8, 1 (1999) 10-19

Rose M. & Fischer K. (1995) 'Policies and Perspectives on Authorship' Science and Engineering Ethics 1, 4 (1995) 361-370, Abstract at

Spier R.E. (1998) 'Ethics and the Funding of Research and Development at Universities' Science and Engineering Ethics 4, 3 (1998) 375-384, Abstract at

Stamps A.E. III (Ed.) (1997) 'Advances in Peer Review Research' Science and Engineering Ethics Special Issue, 3, 1 (January 1997), at

Tarnow E. (1999) 'The Authorship List in Science: Junior Physicists' Perceptions of Who Appears and Why' Science and Engineering Ethics 5, 1 (1999) 73-88, Abstract at

Thomas J. (Ed.) (1996) 'Special Section: The Ethics of Fair Practices for Collecting Social Sciences Data in Cyberspace' The Information Society 12, 2 (April-June 1996), at

Weckert J. & Adeney D. (1997) 'Computer and Information Ethics' Greenwood Press, 1997

Weckert J. (1999) 'Guest Editorial: Computer Ethics' Aust. J. of Prof'l and Applied Ethics 1, 1 (June 1999) ii-iii

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