The use of confidentiality and anonymity protections as a cover for fraudulent fieldwork data

Research Ethics 17 (4):480-500 (2021)
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Qualitative fieldwork research on sensitive topics sometimes requires that interviewees be granted confidentiality and anonymity. When qualitative researchers later publish their findings, they must ensure that any statements obtained during fieldwork interviews cannot be traced back to the interviewees. Given these protections to interviewees, the integrity of the published findings cannot usually be verified or replicated by third parties, and the scholarly community must trust the word of qualitative researchers when they publish their results. This trust is fundamentally abused, however, when researchers publish articles reporting qualitative fieldwork data that they never collected. Using only publicly available information, I argue that a 2017 article in an Elsevier foreign policy and international relations journal presents anonymised fieldwork interviews that could not have occurred as described. As an exercise in post-publication peer review (PPPR), this paper examines the evidence that calls into question the reliability of the putative fieldwork quotations. I show further that the 2017 article is not a unique case. The anonymity and confidentiality protections common in some areas of research create an ethical problem: the protections necessary for obtaining research data can be used as a cover to hide substandard research practices as well as research misconduct.

Author's Profile

M. V. Dougherty
Ohio Dominican University


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