American Sociological Association

Case 18. Constraints on Research

Situation

Jennifer Gugliotti, a sociologist, manages a large research division in a major corporation. As part of her duties, she hires new PhDs to conduct research on consumer behavior. She tells new employees that they are welcome to use the data they collect in focus groups and surveys for professional research as well as corporate research. James Knox, a new PhD, takes a position because he is interested in the types of research the organization does. After a year, he has accumulated data from both focus groups and surveys that he can use to write an article for a sociology journal. He asks Jennifer if she wants to review it before he sends it to a journal. She tells him that the paper must be reviewed by corporate officials to make sure that there is nothing in the article that violates corporate policies or could provide information of value to competitors.

Questions

  1. Did Jennifer mislead James about the possibilities of publishing research based on his work for the company?
  2. Should James have asked more questions? Do most government and business organizations have similar policies?

Discussion

It is not clear if Jennifer misled James about the possibility of using data collected as part of his corporate duties for professional research. However, she should have told him that there were corporate policies that require reviews to ensure the research does not harm the company. These types of policies are common (both explicitly and implicitly) in many major government and corporate organizations so sociologists should learn about the policies before they accept employment it is an issue for them.

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