Research Ethics in Internet-Enabled Research:
Human Subjects Issues and Methodological Myopia

Joseph B. Walther
Department of Communication
Cornell University
336 Kennedy Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4203 USA

Abstract: As Internet resources are used more frequently for research on social and psychological behavior, concerns grow about whether characteristics of such research affect human subjects protections. Early efforts to address such concerns have done more to identify potential problems than to evaluate them or to seek solutions, leaving bodies charged with human subjects oversight in a quagmire. This article critiques some of these issues in light of the US Code of Federal Regulations╣ policies for the Protection of Human Subjects, and argues that some of the issues have no pertinence when examined in the context of common methodological approaches that previous commentators failed to consider. By separating applicable contexts from those that are not, and by identifying cases where subjects' characteristics are irrelevant and/or impossible to provide, oversight committees may be able to consider research applications more appropriately and investigators may be less ethically bound to ascertain and demonstrate those characteristics.

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