Stuttering: A Compelling Example of Ethics, Theory, Research, and Society Barney Beins Research Methods
The Results Jim Dyer of the San Jose Mercury News broke the story in 2001, 60 years after the study was done. He reported that several of the children suffered lasting damage, including those who were initially non-stutterers.
Some important questions • Is this study ethical? • Would it pass muster with your IRB? • How could the researchers justify their action? • Why did they not publish any of their results?
What Happened to the Children? • One woman whom Dyer interviewed and who was featured prominently in the new story claimed that her stuttering resulted from her participation in the study. • She didn’t begin stuttering for 60 years, until either she met her husband or when he died, depending on which account you read.
Some Important Considerations • Was the “suppression” of this 1939 research an attempt by the mentor to distance himself from Mary Tudor and from the specter of the Nazis? • Jim Dyer: “…as the world learned of the Nazi medical experiments,…the professor’s associates warned him to conceal his work on the orphans rather than risk comparisons that could ruin his career.”
The “Suppression” The study has been available in the University of Iowa Library, available to patrons who could, and did, check it out. It may have been that the files with the participants’ names was off limits. The reporter used his student status to gain access to it.
Misinterpretation? • Some speech researchers claim that Dyer misinterpreted the results of the study • The researchers find little evidence that the study had any impact on the children’s speech • There were problems with the categorization of stutters and non-stutters and other methodological questions that make the quality of the research murky.
Conclusions • Social norms are important here. • The counterarguments have received essentially no coverage: A good scandal is always better than a sober retraction. • Not only does research raise as many questions as it answers, but research leads to stories that reflect the people who tell them.
Research does not occur in a vacuum, so any time you make controversial claims based on research, you need to consider • Who is telling the story • What the data actually tell you • Why you shouldn’t believe these claims uncritically