Like in Maria’s case, you now may be thinking, have I ever misused data or read a report that data may have been misused? This thinking is part of the process of “ethics spotting”, the first step to realizing data may have some ethical issues. Fortunately, the American Statistical Association (ASA) publishes guidelines on ethics to guide us to appropriate courses of action when working with data. While there are not necessarily right or wrong answers to these questions, the fact that you are now thinking about ethics in data is the important part.
American Statistical Association's Committee on Professional Ethics published the following: Ethical Guidelines for Statistical Practice
From their website:
The Ethical Guidelines address eight general topic areas and specify important ethical considerations under each topic.
- Professionalism points out the need for competence, judgment, diligence, self-respect, and worthiness of the respect of other people.
- Responsibilities to Funders, Clients, and Employers discusses the practitioner's responsibility for assuring that statistical work is suitable to the needs and resources of those who are paying for it, that funders understand the capabilities and limitations of statistics in addressing their problem, and that the funder's confidential information is protected.
- Responsibilities in Publications and Testimony addresses the need to report sufficient information to give readers, including other practitioners, a clear understanding of the intent of the work, how and by whom it was performed, and any limitations on its validity.
- Responsibilities to Research Subjects describes requirements for protecting the interests of human and animal subjects of research-not only during data collection but also in the analysis, interpretation, and publication of the resulting findings.
- Responsibilities to Research Team Colleagues addresses the mutual responsibilities of professionals participating in multidisciplinary research teams.
- Responsibilities to Other Statisticians or Statistical Practitioners notes the interdependence of professionals doing similar work, whether in the same or different organizations. Basically, they must contribute to the strength of their professions overall by sharing nonproprietary data and methods, participating in peer review, and respecting differing professional opinions.
- Responsibilities Regarding Allegations of Misconduct addresses the sometimes painful process of investigating potential ethical violations and treating those involved with both justice and respect.
- Responsibilities of Employers, Including Organizations, Individuals, Attorneys, or Other Clients Employing Statistical Practitioners encourages employers and clients to recognize the highly interdependent nature of statistical ethics and statistical validity. Employers and clients must not pressure practitioners to produce a particular "result," regardless of its statistical validity. They must avoid the potential social harm that can result from the dissemination of false or misleading statistical work.
Given these guidelines, we might consider some issues Maria might face. If she only has 2 children at her organization being treated for an eating disorder, presenting this information along with the neighborhood the children live in might violate her responsibilities to protect the identities of her clients. While Maria did not intend to disclose anyone’s identity the way in which she presented the basic descriptive statistics lead to unethical action.