American Sociological Association

Case 54. Stage Names and Deception: Two Examples

Situation

Example 1: Protecting Researchers  A survey organization that is part of university is conducting survey of its undergraduates. Most of the interviewers are undergraduate females. In previous surveys of undergrads, there have been instances of male undergrads harassing female interviewers by contacting them after the interview. In the community and the university, it is relatively easy to find information about the interviewers if someone has their names. To prevent potential harm to the interviewers, the survey center director recommends that the interviewers use stage names when introducing themselves in the informed consent statement.

Example 2: Protecting the Research Participants
At the same survey organization, many interviewers also volunteer at local helping agencies. The survey center is conducting a long-term project evaluating the impact of program that helps welfare recipients to become employed. Many of the program participants receive help from multiple agencies. Over time, the long-term interviewers found they met the program participants in their volunteer activities. Many research participants would recognize the interviewers names. In many cases, the interviewers felt the program participants were embarrassed to find that interviewer knew about their participation in the program. To prevent this embarrassment, some interviewers used stage names when conducting interviews in that survey.

Questions

  1.     Is the use a stage names a form of deception? If so, does the researcher have a responsibility to tell the respondents that the interviewer used a stage name?
  2.     Does the use of stage names compromise informed consent?
  3.     Can research ethics be suspended for a greater good, such as the protection of the researchers or their agents?
  4.     Does the use of stage names to protect the respondents, as in the second case, argue that the right to privacy is a more important ethical consideration than informed consent?

Discussion

This issue examines the appropriate use of "stage names" in informed consent and disclosure statements. Stage names are sometimes used by researchers and their agents (e.g., telephone interviewers) to not disclose to research participants the identity of the researcher. There is considerable disagreement in survey research about whether the use of stage names provides sufficient informed consent for participation in a survey. Many researchers believe that the identity of the researcher should not be hidden from research participants. Some might even take a strong point on the issue and state that the use of stage names is a form of deception in research, and its use should be avoided and done only in very special circumstances where the research could not be conducted if deception were not used.

In the two cases described here, stage names might be used for two reasons - to protect the researcher and his/her agents and to protect the research participants. In both cases, the researchers recognized that the use of stage names was a form of deception and probably compromised informed consent (although some might argue not). At the same time, the safety of the research staff and the right to privacy were considered as more important than a mild form of deception. These cases indicate that any one ethical question must be considered in the context of other possible moral and ethical problems.

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