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Case 63. Data Sharing


Professor Esser has decided to change her research focus slightly. She wants to study the same substantive issues she has for several years, but in a new population: new immigrants to the U.S. who should constitute a natural test of some of the theories she has been developing on immigrant communities. She decides that she will study Ethiopian women who are coming to live in her state in comparatively large numbers without their husbands. She spends her sabbatical at a research institution in another state learning Amharic and spends the next two years honing her language skills. The Ethiopian women are very suspicious of her and she has an extremely difficult time gaining their trust. She goes to extraordinary lengths to assure them of her good intentions over a period of almost a year before she feels confident that she is in a position to get reliable data. She moves her family to an apartment in the Ethiopian neighborhood and, an ethnographer by training, she spends the next three years as immersed in the community of Ethiopian women as she can be. Her field notes are voluminous, partly in English and partly in Amharic, and mostly written in her own hand. The first book she writes using these data is seen as path-breaking. Several months after it appears, she receives a request from another researcher who asks that she share her field notes with him. He agrees to pay for whatever costs are involved in reproducing those data and shipping them. Professor Esser feels that the data are as much a part of her and her family as their own skin and is appalled that another researcher should expect that she will share them with him, particularly because he will not have the context--three years of family living among Ethiopian immigrant families--with which to make sense of them. She is also concerned that her field notes will be misinterpreted or mistranslated and that her subjects' lives will be misrepresented. 


  1. How should Professor Esser proceed in making a decision about whether or not to comply with the request?
  2. Has Professor Esser any obligation to the Ethiopian women she studied?

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