Sunday spam: watered-down gruel

Mmm, yum.

I’ve been thinking more intensely about schooling my son since, well, he was born and also since I began reading Rivka’s homeschooling blog (she began homeschooling her then five-year-old year old daughter in June 2010, when my own son was about four months old).

I probably, frankly, wouldn’t know the first thing about homeschooling otherwise, but as it is, I can bring you several links. The first couple are a defence of homeschooling from a self-identified liberal point of view, in the US sense of progressive. In fact, all of this is about the US school system.

Does homeschooling violate liberal values?

Do we have a responsibility to work towards equal educational opportunity for all children, and if so, do we violate it by removing our family from the public system? Even liberal homeschoolers don’t really seem to engage with this question much. Partly I think it’s because there’s such a strong libertarian streak in homeschooling communities, even on the left wing. But also, liberal philosophical arguments for homeschooling tend to be based on a critique of schools as rigid and stifling institutions…

Are liberal homeschoolers hypocrites?

… I’m not a homeschooler, and I don’t particularly care whether anyone thinks I’m sufficiently liberal. But I certainly don’t judge anyone who chooses to take their kids out of these schools. There’s no one right answer to how to make this world a more humane place, and the homeschoolers’ answer seems at least as wise as Goldstein’s. If anything, I instinctively distrust the idea that we can create a more liberal and humane society by putting our kids into less liberal and humane environments. By treating kids as instruments for social improvement, that argument mirrors the very same instrumental treatment of children that I object to when it’s practiced by “reformers” who treat kids as soldiers in the battle for global competitiveness.

And that last point about soldiers in the battle for global competitiveness neatly brings me to Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools:

Hundreds of private philanthropies together spend almost $4 billion annually to support or transform K–12 education, most of it directed to schools that serve low-income children (only religious organizations receive more money). But three funders—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad (rhymes with road) Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation—working in sync, command the field. Whatever nuances differentiate the motivations of the Big Three, their market-based goals for overhauling public education coincide: choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision-making. And they fund the same vehicles to achieve their goals: charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing for students, merit pay for teachers whose students improve their test scores, firing teachers and closing schools when scores don’t rise adequately, and longitudinal data collection on the performance of every student and teacher…

Every day, dozens of reporters and bloggers cover the Big Three’s reform campaign, but critical in-depth investigations have been scarce (for reasons I’ll explain further on). Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that the reforms are not working…

Connecting a Debian/Ubuntu server to the Macquarie University OneNetAnywhere VPN

I realise that this is a rather specific problem, but hopefully the links I provide here will be useful for anyone wanting to access a PPTP VPN themselves.

I have to say that this is one of those entries more likely to be useful if you ever have this specific problem (eg, you can here via a search engine query for “argh pptp mppe errors argh argh argh”) and less for a casual reader. Apologies loyal fans!

Continue reading “Connecting a Debian/Ubuntu server to the Macquarie University OneNetAnywhere VPN”

Talking about his generation: you too can be a bad futurist

The X or Y posts (Gen X or Y?, On being X-ish) reminded me of something I wrote about my son, who was born in 2010, not long before he was born:

I was looking at one of those “the kids of today” lists and thinking about V. What will the world of the 2010 baby look like? I came up with:

  • September 11 will be something that happened when his parents were young, roughly equivalent to the Vietnam War for me, a bit nearer than the moon landing or Harold Holt drowning
  • in fact by the time he’s a teenager everyone or nearly everyone who walked on the moon will have died
  • he may not ever learn to read a paper map or street directory unless he gets heavily into bushwalking or something
  • by the time he’s grown up, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s really unusual to own many paper books, perhaps as uncommon as people my age who own vinyl (yeah, I do know a few, but…)
  • there will be a few veterans of WWII and people who experienced the Holocaust (other than as little babies) around in his childhood and even teens, but they’ll be like I remember WWI veterans: very elderly

If anyone wants to play: can you come up with things that aren’t true of children born in 2000, say? Things like “your parents have always had mobile phones” are going to be true of children 10 or even 15 years older than V will be. (Of my list, the paper map stuff probably fails that test, so might the WWII stuff.)

I’m a terrible futurist, that already reads badly to me. For example, I didn’t own a GPS device at the time: that’s why I thought that bushwalking would rely on paper maps in 2030. (Since they don’t run out of charge, presumably they’ll be useful as backups for a long time, at least for the type of folks who are wary enough to take backup maps anywhere.)

But the question stands: there’s a lot of difference already between me and someone born in, say, 1995. But what’s the difference between that child’s life, and that of my son born in 2010?

On being X-ish

Now that I have described how I graduated into Generation X, I have a secret to confess: I’m starting to think that that might not be entirely wrong.

Let’s stick to cohort effects here, since it’s supposed to be a cohort term. And I should add that this is all very trivial stuff, I’m focussing on media, pop culture and technology experiences.

One of the major temptations of identifying as Generation Y had to do with pop culture. My teenage years were just past the wave of slackers and grunge and Seattle. I probably heard Nirvana’s music during Kurt Cobain’s lifetime, but I didn’t know of them as a thing until about a year after he died. I’ve never even seen Reality Bites, but Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder are both 10 years older than I am, and their movies weren’t about my cohort.

I am, frankly, Spice Girls age: not the pre-teen thrilled girls waving things to be signed, but the teenagers who actually paid for the albums with their own money. (I didn’t, for reference. We were a Garbage family.) Britney Spears was born in the same year as me, and her biggest year career-wise was my first year of university. And obviously, when the term “Generation Y” was coined, the stereotypes of late university/early career certainly fit my friends better than the Generation X tags with managerial aspirations. The return of cool people listening to cheesy pop: Y-ish. So that was where I felt I fell. (In case anyone I knew at high school drops by: I realise I wasn’t cool. But you may have been, and don’t think I didn’t notice you danced to the Spice Girls.)

But then, there’s certainly a few small societal boundaries between me and people who were born in 1986. (I have a sister born in 1986, and thinking about the five years between us is often telling.) Starting at a global level, I was reading Tony Judt’s Postwar recently (recommended, I’ll come back to it here at some point), and I was struck because I remember 1989.

To be fair, that’s more important if one lives in Europe, which I never have, but most of my first detailed memories of newsworthy events have to do with the revolutions of 1989 and the 1990 Gulf War. I remember the USSR, again, from the perspective of a young child who was growing up in Australia, but still. I can read the science fiction people smirk about now, the fiction with the USA and USSR facing off in 2150, and remember, a little bit, what that was actually about. This is, well, frankly, more than a little X-ish.

While we’re talking about defining events, I recall that quite a lot of people talked about the children who won’t remember 9/11. (And by children, I now mean 15 year olds, of course.) Obviously this is more important in the USA, perhaps a little like the European children (by which I mean 25 year olds) who don’t remember 1989 in Europe. I obviously remember 2001, and moreover remember the geopolitical situation in the years before it quite vividly too, and that latter is again, more than a touch X-ish.

Turning to technology, which is fairly defining for me, we’ll start with Douglas Adams:

Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Leaving aside the age effect where shortly everything cool will be against the natural order of things, it’s noticeable to me that the Web and email and so on fall in the “can probably get a career in it” bracket for me. Well, obviously not truly (the first version of the SMTP specification, which still more or less describes how email works today, was published in 1982), but my late teenage years were exactly the years when suddenly a lot of Australian consumers were on the ‘net. Hotmail was founded when I was 15 and I got an address there the following year. (icekween@, the address has been gone since 1999 and I’ve never used that handle since, partly because even in 98/99 it was always taken. But, actually, for a 16 year old’s user name I still think that was fairly OK considering some of the alternatives.)

In short, it was all happening in prime “get a career in it” time for me, and not coincidentally I am at the tail end of the huge boom in computer science enrolments and graduates that came to a giant sudden stop about two years after I finished. Frankly, X-ish. My youngest sister and her friends didn’t get excited about how they were going to become IT managers and have luxury yachts as a matter of course. (Well, partly age and partly not being jerks, there.) It’s a lot harder to get the “just a natural part of the way the world works” people excited about it.

Diagnosis: tailing X.

Gen X or Y?

Charles Stross:

In my next novel (the one I’m going to write for publication in 2014), I’m planning on tackling the future of politics circa 2030-2040. Today’s front-rank politicians, aged 45-70 and children of the Boomer generation and their immediate predecessors and successors, will be elderly and retired or dead by that time; the pre-occupations of politics will revolve around the issues and preoccupations of Generation X and Generation Y, those born between 1965-1985, and 1986-2000.

The shifting in the definition of “Generation Y” has been noticable to all my university friends (born, roughly, 1980 and 1981). The term was coined when I was at the type of age that needed a generation tag, I was probably 20 at the time. People born in 1965 were in their mid-thirties at the time, and “Generation X” seemed to cover the age range of roughly 25 to 40 year olds at that time, the people who were waiting (are waiting?) for Baby Boomers to move out of management positions for them, the people whose issues were kids and mortgages and such.

Thus, to the extent that they cared, people born in 1980 or so were first labelled, and came to identify with, Generation Y.

Then a change in rhetoric happened, because a catchy term for “16 to 25 year olds” was needed, and Generation Y was right there. (Stross is using it for people currently aged 11 to 26, in his entry.) So for about half a decade now, the leading edge of Generation Y has been stuck at 25 years of age, and anyone over 25 is Generation X. Thus, quite a lot of people have suddenly found themselves “promoted” to Generation X in the last five years or so. (For that matter, I suspect that people who were born in 1960 to 1965 are a bit surprised to suddenly find out that they’re now considered Baby Boomers, after being fed a steady diet of “the Boomers are keeping you down!” fluff in their own twenties.)

Really, if you want to seriously analyse this, John Quiggin had the final word in the Australian Financial Review in 2000 (and I imagine the inspiration for it was the coining of the term “Generation Y”, which certainly was not used at the time to refer to children then being born):

One of the standard ploys in journalism, marketing and political commentary is the generation game. The basic idea is to label a generation ‘X’ or ‘Y’, then dissect its attitudes, culture, and relationship with other generations. The most famous generation, of course, is that of the Baby Boomers, born between the end of World War II and the early 1960s, and their most enduring contribution to the generation gap is the ‘Generation Gap’ between children and their parents…

At first sight, discussion of this kind can carry with it an air of fresh insight, but most of it stales rapidly. Much of what passes for discussion about the merits or otherwise of particular generations is little more than a repetition of unchanging formulas about different age groups: the moral degeneration of the young, the rigidity and hypocrisy of the old, and so on.

Demographers have a word (or rather two words) for this. They distinguish between age effects and cohort effects [my emphasis]. The group of people born in a given period, say a year or a decade, is called a cohort. Members of a cohort have things in common because they have shared common experiences through their lives. But, at any given point in time, when members of the cohort are at some particular age, they share things in common with the experience of earlier and later generations when they were at the same age.

Most of the time, age effects are more important than cohort effects. The primary schoolers of the 1960s were very like the primary schoolers of today and, of course, totally different from the middle-aged parents they have become. The grandparents of today are more like their own grandparents than the bodgies and widgies they may have been in the 1950s.

So, Generation Y was originally a cohort term referring to children born, very roughly, from 1980 to about 1990, very roughly the bulk of children of the Baby Boomers (that’s a pretty short generation, so I can see how it gets extended to 2000 readily enough). But all three of “Baby Boomer”, “Generation X” and “Generation Y” are now being used to describe age effects instead:

  • Baby Boomers are perpetually pre-retirees: they have the bulk of the desirable jobs and the bulk of adult power. They are also perpetually a future liability in anticipated health costs and pensions. (In actual fact, many of the children born in the decade after World War I and quite a few born in the early 1950s are now retired or retiring.)
  • Generation X are perpetually early- to mid-career: they have high debt burdens, they have young children, they have high stress levels, they don’t feel entirely settled in their career but they are invested in it.
  • Generation Y are perpetually older youth: they spend a lot of time (“too much”) at university, they don’t take their jobs seriously, they nick off and travel at the least opportunity.

Incidentally, I assume the class aspect of these labels is apparent enough: these stereotypes all refer pretty much exclusively to managerial people (upper-middle) and their parents and children. This is often true of coverage of cohort effects: they describe the youth of journalists’ friends’ children.

I am that class, but the Gen Y stereotypes didn’t even describe my early 20s cohort that well, too many long term relationships and relatively young marriages. There was a lot of travelling and career-hopping though: my husband is one of the very few people I know who graduated with a Bachelor degree and has worked a full-time salaried job—not one individual job, mind you—in the same industry ever since. Stereotypes, eh?

However, since the coining of the terms, the confusion of age and cohort effects in the use of these terms means that people are surprised to find themselves aging out of them: you used to be Gen X, but now you’re a tailing Boomer. I used to be Gen Y for that matter, but I turned 30 and that was that. I graduated. I’m X.

I’ll be curious to see how long this effect lasts, if in five to ten years, as it should, the term Boomer is used to refer to people who actually have retired, rather than Boomers being perpetually on the cusp of retiring as they have been for seemingly my entire life.

Like advice columns? Check out Captain Awkward

I keep meaning to send the link to individual people I know, but then encountering a crucial etiquette problem, being that one cannot say “here’s an advice column you might like” without being heard as “here’s an advice column YOU NEED TO LISTEN TO BECAUSE YOU OUGHT TO FIX YOUR LIFE DO YOU HEAR ME?”

A broadcast medium is obviously the solution. Captain Awkward. Blogger gives advice, mostly about boundries.

The 44th Down Under Feminists Carnival

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

Apologies for not getting this done on time everyone, December and January turned out to be a major time crunch for me. However, I won’t keep you, on with the show!

In blue on a white background, the DUFC logo: in a square with rounded corners, there is the female/feminine symbol; with the Southern Cross inside, above which it says 'Down Under' and below 'Feminists Carnival'.

Welcome! This post is the 44th monthly Down Under Feminists Carnival. This edition of the carnival gathers together December 2011 feminist posts from writers living in Australia and New Zealand. Thanks to all the writers and submitters for making this carnival carnilicious.

Highlighted new(er) Down Under voices

I’ve decided to highlight inline posts that come from people who began been blogging at their current home in January 2011 or later, such posts are marked with (2011 blog) after the link. I know this is a very imperfect guide to new writers, since some may have simply started new blogs or switched URLs, or be well-known as writers in other media, but hopefully this may be a quick guide to feeds you may not be following yet.

Also, this carnival observes the new rule that each writer may feature at most twice (full disclosure: I used the “three if the host really really wants to!” exemption once). Apologies to the many fine submissions that were dropped under this system, but I hope it results in a more manageable carnival size and representation of different writers.

Feminist spaces

Maia wrote On Change and Accountability: A response to Clarisse Thorn (cross-posted at Feministe and Alas! A Blog) in response to Feministe’s interview with Hugo Schwyzer and ensuing critical discussion of Schwyzer’s reception as a leading ally.

Politics and social justice

anthea encourages consideration of a charity’s ethical framework and agenda before donating.

stargazer doesn’t think identity politics and inequality politics are in conflict.

Disability

anthea deconstructs judgments about fat, laziness, energy expenditure, priorities and disability.

Maia is troubled by the presentation of the sexuality of people with disabilities in The Scarlet Road‘s trailer, and notes the conflation of the sexuality of people with disabilities and the sexuality of men with disabilities.

Ethnicity, race and racism

Chally is not happy with racially coded beauty standards about her hair.

Chrys Stevenson reflects on Aboriginal health, Meryl Dorey’s promotion of non-vaccination and that Aboriginal people have every reason not to listen to white people like Stevenson. (Later, Stevenson/Gladly writes about working with the media to publicise Dorey’s involvement in the Woodford folk festival.)

Workplace

Mentally Sexy Dad introduces Lisa Coffa and Bronwyn Sutton, co-winners of the Pam Keating Award given by the Waste Management Association of Australia. (2011 blog)

Kaylia Payne explores internalised stereotypes about women’s and men’s jobs.

Blue Milk recalls staging an office coup for the corner office.

Penelope Robinson considers the academic workforce, including workloads and casualisation.

Environment

Steph is skeptical about wind farm noise complaints being genuine, rather than a lobbying technique.

Feminist life

tallulahspankhead discusses consent issues and ethics outside the context of sex acts. (2011 blog)

Sonya Krzywoszyja rolls her eyes at feminism 101 questions sent through dating sites.

Deborah writes about the feminism of raising daughters as independent thinkers.

Sex work

Anita condemns the focus on Nuttidar Vaikaew’s sex work in the media coverage of her murder by her spouse.

Blue Milk explains how she, as an outsider, views sex worker experiences by analogy with drug culture experiences ranging from very negative to very positive. (This post is a followup to a late November post on her blog.)

LGBTQIA

Jo writes about personal explorations of asexuality. (2011 blog)

bluebec is suspicious of any claim that “It has always been that way since the dawn of humanity” and gives Joe de Bruyn of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association a lesson to that effect.

LudditeJourno thinks that the mythos of New Zealand egalitarianism is causing police to prematurely determine that Phillip Cottrell’s murder wasn’t a hate crime.

Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear makes sure the bigotry of politicians gets exposure beyond Hansard.

Religion

stargazer is pleased with a review of mosques as women’s spaces in Turkey and thinks New Zealand could benefit from the same.

Media, literature and culture

brownflotsam has a mixed review of Albert Nobbs and is keen to talk with other people who’ve seen it. (2011 blog)

IsBambi celebrates the work and thoughts of Abigail E. Disney, who makes films about women’s roles in peace processes. (2011 blog)

Jo is critical of the conflation of motherhood with womanhood in the Doctor Who Christmas special. (2011 blog)

PharaohKatt pushes back on privileged criticisms of The Australian Women Writers Challenge.

bluebec reflects on choosing to and being allowed to play female (and non-white) characters in computer games.

Anita demonstrates how an NZ Herald article unnecessarily emphasises the gender of a police officer who was assaulted.

Penelope Robinson is bothered by media talk of Nicola, Tanya and Julie instead of Roxon, Plibersek and Collins.

sleepydumpling takes Mia Freedman to task on fashion judgments as classist, ableist and sizeist, and newswithnipples examines Freedman’s denial that there’s any problem.

Violence

Jshoep got some very unhelpful “report him” and “hit him” advice after being assaulted at an Opeth gig.

ColeyTangerina explains that the prevalence of triggers and people who can be triggered is why the feminist blogosphere tends to warn for them.

Deborah observes another case of victim-blaming when police talk about sexual assault.

Mindy considers whether the fundamentals of the perception of women prisoners have changed since the Victorian era.

LudditeJourno calls on the New Zealand government to adequately fund the Auckland Sexual Abuse Help line.

Reproductive rights and justice

Alison McCulloch details the history and consequences of creating a moral hierarchy of abortions in New Zealand. (2011 blog)

Megan Clayton writes about prenatal testing and the assumptions made that terminating the pregnancy is the only choice if atypical chromosomes are found.

Beauty and body image

The End is Naenae! discovers a doozy of a comment thread about pubic hair and removal thereof in, of course, a Life and Style section. (2011 blog)

The End is Naenae! also considers the continued assumption that beauty is a woman’s or girl’s foremost aim and accomplishment. (2011 blog)

Rachel Hills writes about the special shame of trying hard and still failing to look 100% officially beautiful.

Chally analyses the telling of stories about women who lose their beauty, particularly the case of Lauren Scruggs, injured in an accident. (Cross-posted at HAT.)

Tracy Crisp writes about beauty and intercultural communication when she is diagnosed with a basal cell carcinoma (and, later, how Australian women consider that news).

sleepydumpling celebrates what the fat acceptance ideas and community have led her to.

Next carnival

The 45th carnival will follow hard on our heels at Maybe it means nothing. Submit January 2012 posts as per Chally’s instructions.

Friday Hoydens: Ellyse Perry and Suzie Bates

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

There’s something about women cricketers… they just can’t confine themselves to one sport, dammit!

Ellyse Perry plays a forward defensive shot
Ellyse Perry, by YellowMonkey, CC BY-SA
Ellyse Perry is one of the Southern Star’s best known players, playing for the national team since age 16. She’s an all-rounder, and now aged 21 has appeared in 2 Tests and 39 One Day Internationals. (Women cricketers have far fewer opportunities to play Test matches than men do, a lifetime total of under 10 Tests is normal.) She also debuted for the Matildas, our national soccer team, in the same year as she began playing for the Southern Stars. In 2011, when she came on as a substitute in a Norway v Australia game in the FIFA World Cup she became the first woman to have represented Australia in senior World Cups in two different sports.

Suzie Bates stands with bat in the field
Suzie Bates, by paddynapper CC BY-SA
Suzie Bates was made captain of the White Ferns in December 2011. Like Perry, she is an all-rounder (or apparently so, I haven’t found her described as such, coverage of her online is poorer, and if you ever felt like contributing to Wikipedia today is your lucky day): she currently holds the highest batting average in her Twenty20 team, and she took four wickets in New Zealand’s path to the World Cup final in 2009. In addition to her years of cricketing, she also played for New Zealand’s basketball team in the 2008 Olympics, although she told Cricinfo that her responsibilities as cricket captain will probably mean that she cannot play again in the 2012 Olympics.

Perry and Bates will be part of the Southern Stars and the White Ferns respectively during their upcoming eight-match series in Sydney/Melbourne in late January and early February.

References

Mary’s helpful guide to soliciting research participation on the ‘net

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

In my years on the ‘net, I’ve seen any number of people want to interview others or get them to take surveys for everything from a short high school or undergraduate paper through to graduate research projects and books. And they so seldom manage to meet basic ethical guidelines for making sure they aren’t wasting their participants’ time at best or endangering them at worst. Hence this article.

In addition, this article may help research participants better assess requests: are researchers telling you what you need to know? Have they considered your interests as well as their desire to Find Something Out At All Costs?

Full disclosure: I am not a research ethics expert, I am simply a researcher helping you get the basics right. Please seek expert advice if you have any doubt about the safety or integrity of your research.

Why do I need to do this stuff?

Because you’re so often asking people sensitive stuff, that’s why!

Look, I have some sympathy for the “it’s just questions about something-seemingly-small!” myself. I ask people questions about their linguistic intuitions. “Which sentence reads better to you, A or B?” There’s nothing less fun than completing a 31 page ethics application to get approval to ask people about which sentences read better.

But look, all research, at best, takes up people’s time. You owe people something for that. In addition, quite a lot of the research people are recruiting for on the ‘net wants to get into harassment of women, political affiliations, sexual experiences, why people write slash. That kind of stuff? That kind of stuff in the wrong hands loses people jobs and relationships. You owe people serious, well thought out harm mitigation for that.

So, ethical research recruitment lets people know what they’re getting into, whether it is a boring half hour sharing linguistic intuitions, or sharing potentially damaging information with a reseracher.

The bare minimum

All researchers asking for participation should share this information:

  • Who are you?
  • Who do you work for or who commissioned this work, if not yourself?
  • How can I get in contact with you, and how can I get in contact with who you are working for?
  • What is the purpose of the research?
  • What is the status of the research? Is this sheer curiosity that made you whip up a survey in five minutes, or a pilot study, or the main game?
  • What kind of effort do you want from me? (Interviews versus surveys. Five minutes versus many hours. You get the idea. Tell me upfront what my time investment is.)
  • When you’re done, where can I see the results?
  • Will the results be made public and in what form? (A peer-reviewed article? A PhD thesis? A pop science book? On your blog?)

Some of this might be the sort of thing you want to put on a webpage you can link to, so you can leave short advertisements like “Hi, I’m looking for help with X, and thought readers here might want to help because of Y, if you need to know more, please see LINK.”

You;d be amazed how many people miss the “When you’re done, where can I see the results?” step. Even if they’re asking people for 20 hours of interviews or something like that. For anything but the most trivial investment of time, letting people read your results is the minimum reward required.

Also, results being made public can often be good: the subject’s work is contributing to the sum of human knowledge! So don’t consider this necessarily a bad thing in and of itself.

Institutional research

If you are doing research at the postgraduate, postdoctoral or faculty level, research using human subjects (and other animal subjects for that matter, but you aren’t likely to be recruiting them on blogs) requires ethics approval by an institution-level ethics committee in most institutions.

So, when soliciting participants for research that has ethics approval, provide the following info:

  • All the bare minimums plus
  • A statement citing your ethics approval in whatever manner is usual. Your committee probably has boilerplate. Typically this will name the institution, give a reference number for your experiment and provide contact details for the ethics committee.
  • If your ethics committee approved a recruitment advertisement, use it! If it’s long put it at the other end of a link if that’s OK with them.
  • If your ethics approval requires that you disclose a bunch of things, also state them or place them at your info link if allowed.

If your institutional research didn’t require ethics approval (some institutions might, for example, have a blanket policy covering low-risk things like linguistic intuition questionnaires) find whatever boilerplate they let you use instead, if there is any or say something sensible along the lines of “This questionnaire comes under the XYZ University Low Risk Experimentation Policy [link].”

Basically, if you are doing research on behalf of an employer state either that you have ethics approval, or if not, why not (eg, your institution has no committee).

No committee but doing something sensitive?

If you’re doing sensitive work outside the oversight of ethics committees, here’s the start of your checklist!

  • All the bare minimums plus
  • Are respondents going to be anonymised in your personal/researcher copy of the data? Are you stripping any associated names, IP addresses, email addresses and similar? If not, what are you keeping and why?
  • How are you storing the researcher copy of the data?
  • Who has access to the researcher copy of the data? (Yourself? Your boss? All of your boss’s present and future employees? The Internet?)
  • When do you plan to delete the researcher copy of the data, if ever?
  • Are respondents going to be anonymised in the published results? If not, what identifying information will you publish and why?
  • Can a respondent withdraw their participation and be deleted from your data or transcripts? How do they do it? How long do they have to do so?

There are all kinds of other factors that ethics committees would get you to look at, basically, what capacity for harm does your research have? How are you mitigating that harm? What risk to your participants is left?

Risks include: physical health risks; mental health risks (more common with online data gathering, eg, triggering questions); exposing people to relationship disruption or breakdown, or abuse (by, eg, asking them to discuss infidelity); exposing people to criminal prosecution (eg by asking them to discuss illegal drug use); exposing people to civil liability (eg by getting them to discuss breach of contract), exposing them to job loss; denying them the best treatment or resources (by, eg, giving preferential treatment to patients or students or employees who agree to take part in the research, thus harming others); and coercing participation in general. And there’s one question that frankly stands out to me as a member of the apparently rare species Lady on the ‘Net, which is “are you studying an over-studied population and if so, what benefit does this extra research have for them, as opposed to for you?”

One of the most obvious mitigation strategies is anonymity of your subjects in reports, and eventual data destruction of any private identifying data. But as you can see from the examples related to coerced participation, it isn’t the only strategy you might need. List your possible harms, list your mitigations, let the potential subjects decide if the research is worth it to them.

Related

I wrote a similar post focussed on software development a few years back, in that case mainly focussed on “prove to your subjects that their participation is not a waste of their time.”

Name fields and UI

The AdaCamp Melbourne application form began with two fields: Your Name and Your Email. Seems fair enough! An unanticipated problem a few people have had with the forms is that they have entered “Your Given Name” and “Your Surname” instead, presumably trained to do this by umpteen million sites that want data entered that way. This leaves us with no email for them.

I don’t think the solution is to go with the flow, it buys into Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names and the only thing it would get AdaCamp is the more-or-less correct alphabetising of the attendee list. (Only more-or-less correct: not only do given-surname name orderings vary among two-or-more-name cultures, so does the sort key, see eg Wikipedia’s manual instructing editors to sort Thai people by their given name.) But since we have no need to alphabetise the attendee list, it’s fine.

The best solution, I think, is to perform email address validation, which has its own problems (eg many validators use “is there a dot in the domain part?” which annoys the lucky people who have an email account at a top level domain no end) but gives us what we really need: a way to contact applicants!