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The Price of Academic Integrity and Confidentiality

2009 December 7
by Richard N. Landers
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A University of Minnesota graduate student in sociology was recently jailed for protecting the identity of his research subjects – radical environmentalists and animal rights activists.  The graduate student was jailed specifically for failing to reveal to authorities his knowledge of a particularly destructive ALF attack at the University of Iowa.

To the sociologists, the issue is straightforward.  Confidentiality was promised, and confidentiality should be delivered.  Even if the researcher has specific information about the identities of activists that have committed or will commit crimes, promises were made.  After all, they probably wouldn’t have revealed such information to the researcher without that promise.  But the law takes a different approach.

Legal protections exist in only a handful of scenarios related to the social sciences.  Research surrounding certain high-risk populations, such as drug addicts and jailed convicted felons, has some legal protections.  But animal rights activists don’t fall in that category.

Federal prosecutors have charged him with conspiracy to commit animal enterprise terrorism under a new law that gives the fed more power to prosecute those that vandalize animal research facilities.   Some believe that the charge is only to pressure him into revealing what he knows to authorities, since it is clear from the evidence surrounding the case that he had no direct role in the attacks.

If you support this graduate student’s plight, I suggest you sign the petition currently with over 1000 signatures to drop the charges against him.

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