Synopsis twelve: ethics, presentations, publishing

A. Ethics
Ethical guidelines in research have developed fairly recently in this century. They were hardly part of the atrociously unprincipled research conducted by Nazi scientists during World War II, but even earlier in the century or shortly after the war respected scholars conducted research we wouldn't today consider ethical. Problems tend to arise in these four areas:

1. Use of invasive procedures, such as drug studies.

2. Use of minors, disabled, handicapped, or other populations considered to be vulnerable.

3. Studies using deception or manipulation.

4. Studies involving privacy questions, particularly as they relate to dissemination of findings.

Communication researchers consider most often categories two and four, but may consider category three from time to time. The university's Institutional Review Board (IRB) requires students to submit planned research for review, if it involves human subjects, and issues ethical guidelines and suggested procedures.

B. Presenting/Publishing
Researchers, be they students or established academics, are encouraged to tell colleagues about their work. In fact, some academics believe researchers have an obligation to present findings and contribute to their discipline. The majority of research is presented at regional, national, and international discipline-specific conferences. Most of these presentations are "peer reviewed." That is, a group of experts in the discipline review submissions for accuracy, writing quality, and contribution to the discipline. National conferences commonly reject half the submissions received by the research chair, although conference organizers try very hard to set up as many opportunities for presentations as possible. This encourages attendance, and gives a conference greater breadth. Normally those whose papers are accepted are asked to present as part of a panel, coordinated by a moderator and/or discussant.

Many researchers hope eventually to get their presentations published as research articles in scholarly journals. Again, the peer review process is used to evaluate journal submissions. Sometimes called a "blind review," this process tries to assure objectivity be keeping both reviewers and submitters anonymous. A journal editor will act as a liaison between the two. "Refereed journals" usually don't pay for articles, but researchers who publish regularly know that payment will eventually come in the form of prestige, promotion and raises. Journal editors, based on review board recommendations, may make one of four decisions:

1. Accept immediately with minor or no changes.

2. Accept pending more substantive changes.

3. Ask a submitter to revise and resubmit the article for another review.

4. Reject the article.

Seldom are articles accepted immediately, even when written by established academics. Most common is the "revise and resubmit" letter. This is considered encouraging; reviewers believe the article has potential, and the journal will probably accept it eventually if the submitter makes requested changes. Articles rejected by one journal are usually sent to another, perhaps smaller, journal. Rejection rates for the more established and larger journals (this includes revise and resubmit) may be 80 percent. Smaller and state-wide journals, on the other hand, may have rejection rates of only 50 percent, and most of these will be revise-and-resubmit rejections.

Many research articles are written by more than one author. Usually it's advantageous to be listed as first author. Protocols for author listing vary from whether the lead author is "P.I." (Principal Investigator) for normally grant-funded research projects, to whether he or she is advisor to graduate students who may have done most of the lab work. Some university departments track "citations" (the number of times an article is cited by other researchers) as a way to gauge a researcher's importance for tenure, promotions, or raises.