CMU President Responds to the CyberPorn flap

Date: Tue, 8 Aug 1995 16:40:47 -0400
From: Dave Farber 
Subject: #4659 - "Internet Pornography" Statement 
To: (interesting-people mailing list)

The enclosed was posted to the CMU community this afternoon. It's on internal "bulletin board" (similar to news group)

Inter-office Correspondence

To:     CMU Community

From:   Paul Christiano

Subject:        Research Project on Internet Pornography

Date:   8 August 1995

The article, "Marketing Pornography on the Information Superhighway," by Martin Rimm, which was published in the June 1995 edition of the Georgetown Law Journal, has received much attention during the past several weeks. The basis for this article (which appeared in print in the second week of July) was a project conducted at Carnegie Mellon University by Mr. Rimm, then an undergraduate, under the supervision of several faculty. While some comments about the published work have been favorable, citing the novelty of the research and the value of the information provided through the study, substantial criticism has focused on the study's scholarship and the methods by which data were acquired and used.

Questions have been raised as to how data were collected from individuals and from databases; how those data were subsequently handled; how faculty oversight was initially designed and maintained during the course of the research; how the research was characterized and disseminated; how risk and harm to human participants were prevented or minimized; and whether methodological flaws exist, which might have been detected during pre-publication peer review and/or which might render the article deficient relative to normal acceptable standards at Carnegie Mellon.

Ordinarily, criticism of research at Carnegie Mellon and at other research-intensive universities would occur through traditional channels, and would not prompt any "institutional" reply. Peer review of articles prior to publication would address many, if not all, issues pertaining to scholarship and research methodology. In instances where prior peer review of a research paper is not obtained, reactions are communicated through less traditional and less formal channels (the Internet, the popular press, etc.). Either way, with or without prior peer review, the work of researchers (whether students or faculty), including the selection of topics and the conduct of the research, is normally understood to be the basic responsibility of the researchers themselves. Academic freedom is manifested in that way. While the university is responsible for creating and maintaining a supportive environment for scholarly pursuit, in fact faculty and students themselves enjoy the credit and bear the responsibility for their own work. That some research conducted by Carnegie Mellon students or faculty might turn out to be controversial does not alter this distribution of responsibility.

The administration and various governing bodies within any university do, of course, bear responsibility for creating appropriate policies and guidelines to which researchers can refer prior to commencing research, and for enforcing policies that pertain to alleged misconduct in research. When, on July 14, I stated that Carnegie Mellon University is responsible for the integrity of research conducted at the University, I was referring to the specific responsibility of creating and enforcing such policies. At that time I also announced that, in accordance with established University policy, a three-member faculty committee, i.e., a Committee of Inquiry, would be formed to evaluate allegations of misconduct directed at the subject research.

The current policy that governs the investigation of alleged misconduct in research at Carnegie Mellon University was established in 1990 as one means by which the university may discharge one of its most important responsibilities, a responsibility that it bears for the benefit of research sponsors, the welfare of the public, and the protection of its own researchers. The Committee of Inquiry, which was formed to conduct a limited inquiry into allegations directed at the subject research, now has completed its work. That committee has recommended, in accordance with the above-cited policy, that several allegations warrant the conduct of a thorough investigation, through a five-member faculty Committee of Investigation. This committee, to be formed jointly by me and the leadership of the Faculty Senate, is expected to submit its recommendations to me, to the president of the university, to the leaders of the Faculty Senate, to the dean of student affairs, and to the researchers themselves.

The specific recommendations that have been provided to me by the Committee of Inquiry remain confidential, according to the above-cited University policy. However, I expect the Committee of Investigation to examine a full range of issues relating to the article and to the research preceding it.

Until the Committee of Investigation has completed its work to determine which, if any, allegations are valid, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on this matter. Indeed, all those who believe in fairness and in due process should take special care not to prejudge the conduct of persons who have engaged in this or any other research. While the well being of human participants, as well as the search for truth, must always be essential guiding principles, so also must be respect for the reputation and academic freedom of researchers and for due process. Carnegie Mellon University will continue to adhere to those principles.

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