3.2.3 Explanation of purpose The degree of openness also maps closely to what kind of explanation you provide about the research. You may be completely honest about what you are doing, the explanation may be partially true but adapted to ensure co-operation, you may provide a deceitful explanation concealing your true purpose, or provide no explanation at all. The explanation of purpose and the degree of secrecy raise ethical issues (see Section 10).
Researchers sometimes only tell the members of the group that they are writing a book or article about the area, as Whyte (1943) did in his study of an area of Boston.
Sometimes the real activities of the researcher may only be known to a sub-set of the subject group (usually including group leaders). Whyte (1943), for example, told Doc, the leader of the gang, that he was ‘writing a book about street corner life’; Doc then vouched for Whyte with the rest of the gang. Such an approach can lead to problems when the research is published. Doc was upset and felt betrayed by the way that the activities of the gang were reported in Street Corner Society.
There are some data that should go unreported if they are likely to be damaging to individuals or the group. Whenever the subjects of research are human beings, there are ethical limits on scientific responsibility for completeness and objectivity which are not only justified but mandated. Furthermore, information which is given confidentially must be kept in confidence.
However, in some studies, of deviant activity for example, very little would be reported if the researcher adhered to this rubric. The reporting, in the last instance needs to be ethical, in the public interest, and taking into account the feelings of the community where possible. Sensitive data may best be reported anonymously. It is not the job of a social researcher to act as a sensationalist reporter.
Sometimes it is a matter of practicality; it is not usually feasible to let everyone in a large organisation know what isgoing (Punch, 1986), nor is it desirable if the research is attempting to uncover the unofficial or informal practices of an organisation (Shulman, 1994).