Case VII: Accuracy of Information
For our next case, we consider responsibility for accuracy or integrity of information. Again, this is an issue addressed by database management systems and other access control mechanisms. However, as in previous cases, the issue here is access by an authorized user, so the controls do not prevent access.
Emma is a researcher at an institute where Paul is a statistical programmer. Emma wrote a grant request to a cereal manufacturer to show the nutritional value of a new cereal, Raw Bits. The manufacturer funded Emma's study. Emma is not a statistician. She has brought all of her data to Paul to ask him to perform appropriate analyses and to print reports for her to send to the manufacturer. Unfortunately, the data Emma has collected seem to refute the claim that Raw Bits is nutritious, and, in fact, they may indicate that Raw Bits is harmful.
Paul presents his analyses to Emma but also indicates that some other correlations could be performed that would cast Raw Bits in a more favorable light. Paul makes a facetious remark about his being able to use statistics to support either side of any issue.
Clearly, if Paul changed data values in this study, he would be acting unethically. But is it any more ethical for him to suggest analyzing correct data in a way that supports two or more different conclusions? Is Paul obligated to present both the positive and the negative analyses? Is Paul responsible for the use to which others put his program results?
If Emma does not understand statistical analysis, is she acting ethically in accepting Paul's positive conclusions? His negative conclusions? Emma suspects that if she forwards negative results to the manufacturer, they will just find another researcher to do another study. She suspects that if she forwards both sets of results to the manufacturer, they will publicize only the positive ones. What ethical principles support her sending both sets of data? What principles support her sending just the positive set? What other courses of action has she?