Article 15: Questionnaire 1:

March 1, 2011

Article 15 says that governments should “recognize the right of everyone to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications.”  The first two questions ask you to think about the benefits of science in the context of linguistics.

1. How does linguistics benefit society and the individuals within it?

Language from your professional association’s mission and/or vision statement may be useful here.

2. Please give at least one example of current work in linguistics that is benefiting or will benefit society and/or individuals.

It might be useful to think of applications of linguistics research in answering this question.  These examples may come from your own work or other linguists.

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Article 15: Questionnaire 2:

March 1, 2011

Article 15 requires governments to “respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research.”

3. Describe the challenges that scientists within linguistics experience in exercising the freedom necessary to conduct their work and disseminate their findings. These challenges may arise due to the topic, content, or method of their research or expression.  Please provide specific examples, when possible.

Note: please answer this question in terms of linguists working and living in the country where you are currently located.  If appropriate, add a response related to the challenges of linguists working in/residing in other countries.

4. Enjoying the benefits of science necessarily includes protection from the misuse of science, whether through intention, accident or neglect.[1] What do you see as the potential dangers or misuses of linguistics?


[1] The context for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the brutality and destruction of WWII, including the Nazi genocide.  UDHR drafters were highly cognizant of both the beneficial and destructive potentials of science.  (Chapman 2009).


Article 15: Questionnaire 3:

March 1, 2011

Under Article 15, governments are required to take the steps necessary for the “conservation, development, and diffusion of science.”

5. In linguistics, what types of knowledge, products and tools (e.g., data, ancient texts) must be conserved (saved, stored, or protected)? What methods are best for ensuring appropriate access to that knowledge? What kinds of scientific knowledge in linguistics are currently not being conserved?

6. What are the necessary conditions for linguistics to develop and grow?

For example, equal access to high quality education has been cited as one necessary pre-condition for all scientific advancement.


Article 15: Questionnaire 4:

March 1, 2011

Under Article 15 governments are asked to recognize the benefits to be derived from the encouragement and development of international contacts and cooperation in science:

7. What “international contacts” and forms of “international cooperation” are required to effectively conduct or participate in linguistics?

8. What government policies impose obstacles to the development of international contacts and cooperation in linguistics? What government policies exist to encourage the development of international contacts and cooperation?

Note: please answer this question with reference to specific examples of the laws, policies and/or programs of your government.

9. What other kinds of activities should the government be undertaking to facilitate international contacts and cooperation in linguistics?


Article 15: Questionnaire 5:

March 1, 2011

A basic tenet of human rights requires particular attention be paid to vulnerable and marginalized populations in the realization of human rights.

10. From the perspective of linguistics, what, if any, persons or communities require special protection in the realization of this right? (e.g., scientists, clinical trial participants, minority students, women, convicted prisoners)

11. What barriers exist for the general public in terms of availability of, and access to, the benefits of linguistics?

12. The development, growth and diffusion of science can be impacted by the intellectual property laws adopted and trade agreements entered into by governments.  How do government actions of this kind impact the development of science and technology and dissemination of the benefits of science within linguistics?

When you think about the right to enjoy the benefits of progress in linguistics, is there any other issue that you think we should consider and discuss?


American Anthropological Association core ethical principles posted online for public review and comment

February 3, 2011
Lise Dobrin writes:
After tinkering with its Code of Ethics on and off for years, in 2008 the American Anthropological Association established a Task Force to provide a comprehensive review the Code and propose revisions in a more systematic way. Although the process was originally expected to be completed by November 2010, the research and reflection demanded by such an ambitious project has (understandably) caused the timetable to expand; the new draft code and associated report will be submitted to the AAA Executive Board this November, after which the AAA membership will have the opportunity to vote on the final draft.
Besides being refreshingly proactive (the American anthropological community is very good at monitoring itself and exploding in controversy over the ethical comportment of its members), one of the most exciting aspects of the Code review is the consultative nature of the process the Task Force has adopted. Early in its review the Task Force conducted a member survey to help them understand how anthropologists were using the current Code, where they felt it was insufficient, and what they believed they needed a code for. Now, as they begin thinking about revisions, they are trying to identify core statements or principles (Be open and honest regarding your work. Make your results accessible.Balance competing ethical obligations due collaborators and affected parties), and are asking for our help in crafting those. They are posting their thoughts on the AAA blog, principle by principle, and soliciting comments/feedback from anyone who cares enough about anthropological ethics to respond. The process is continuing for another few months, so keep checking back to see what you think!

Fieldwork Classes and the IRB

January 13, 2011

I am teaching a traditional field methods class this semester. We are working with a speaker of a Tibeto-Burman language. The class has both undergraduate and graduate students in it. Late last semester I called Yale’s IRB regarding the question of whether the class required IRB clearance, and if so, which forms I should use (at my university we have separate forms for student research and class projects). I am reproducing my IRB’s response and their rationale here.

The class was determined to be not subject to IRB review. That is, it did not come under the definition of “research involving human subjects” from the regulatory perspective. (Remember that this is distinct from “exempt”, which is a category of review.)

There were two reasons for the determination, as I understand it. The first was that it is a class activity, and most class activities are considered not to come under these rules. The relevant passage in the regulations is here:

§46.101 To what does this policy apply?

(b) Unless otherwise required by department or agency heads, research activities in which the only involvement of human subjects will be in one or more of the following categories are exempt from this policy:

(1) Research conducted in established or commonly accepted educational settings, involving normal educational practices, such as (i) research on regular and special education instructional strategies, or (ii) research on the effectiveness of or the comparison among instructional techniques, curricula, or classroom management methods.

In this case, even though publications are likely to come out of the project, this clause was deemed to cover field methods classes.

The second reason was that the class is studying the structures of language, not human behavior. That is, we will be doing research about the properties of the language, and not the speaker. The crucial point here is the definition of a human subject:

(f) Human subject means a living individual about whom an investigator (whether professional or student) conducting research obtains …

Since we are not gathering information about our consultant, but about her language, the regulations don’t apply.

Note: I present this material here as a case study. I am not saying that on the basis of this determination, no field methods classes need to be approved by IRBs. Instructors for field methods classes need to check with their own IRBs about how they interpret these regulations. Furthermore, in my class I make sure that the students receive training in consent procedures and other areas of ethical regulation, and our consultant is an employee of the university for this semester (that is, we employ our consultant as an junior instructor in the class) – this may also have an effect on how the regulations are interpreted.