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Case 05. The Limits of Expertise


Alice Alphonse, a research associate in a survey research group at a private firm, has been  called on to testify in the state legislature following her recent completion of a state funded project on wage and cooperation in the state's food processing industry. A recent explosion in one of these five plants has raised questions about safety standards and practices in the industry. Alphonse's work consisted of off-site interviews with a sample of approximately 200 workers. It is difficult to secure the compensation of workers because they feared retaliation by management. Her work was funded by a state grant, obligating her to respond to the state. She is uncertain that she has sufficient data on plant safety. While information on safety was volunteered by some workers in response to an open-ended question on job satisfaction, she did not specifically collect information on the safety aspects of work in the plants. 


  1. What are Alphonse's boundaries of competence to testify on safety matters?
  2. What are her obligations to protect her sources?
  3. Is it her ethical obligation to divulge whatever she has heard about safety in the interest of the public good?
  4. What ethical issues are faced in public testimony? Does this kind of presentation differ from written research findings presentation and if so, how?
  5. Does she have sufficient information to meet the threshold of inference?

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