This past week, our Core II class had three very different readings to sift through: one discussing how to become a published writer, one on ethics in writing subjects and another on various methods of conducting research. While all were interesting in their own right (and some dense), the discussion on ethics in collecting information from individuals and cultures intrigued me the most.
The topic came up when Dr. Wolff pointed out that journalists are not bound to IRB stipulations in the same way that writers submitting their work to journals are. I chimed in with my knowledge on journalism ethics (I took a course on the subject) and said that, basically, journalists can print anything as long as they don’t threaten anyone with injury or harm or lie (which is known as libel). One of my classmates brought up the point that “not lying” is a bit of a gray area when considering the tremendous responsibility of being an ethical writer. How do you know when a writer isn’t lying? Essentially, we’re asking, “What is truth?”
Truth is largely a culturally dependent construct (an idea I’ve learned in other classes, but find fitting to incorporate here). In our western culture, we’ve been trained to believe that truth is whatever actually happened to a person or place, regardless of the ramifications of the revelation of that truth. So, in our writing, we seek to record the most accurate portrayal of the truth as we possibly can. We value fairness, and such a belief is reflected in the way we write. The value-neautral attitude of research into social sciences championed by Max Weber still reflects in scholarly work.
This conception of truth will be important to keep in mind when I go out to interview subjects for my research. I must also remember my background in journalism and stave off my preconceived notions about my topic; rather, I must start from my first lead and let the story develop naturally from there. I’m interested uncovering whether my appraisal of youth sports (that they may require more dedication and intensity than our society should expect from minors) is valid, but I have to avoid cries of “having an agenda” and unveil the truth.