Case 11: The Case of the Falsified Data

Mickey Jordan had developed a collaborative social-impact assessment project involving two colleagues and three students. The six-person team was responsible for collecting field data in a wide geographical area at some distance from their university. Each person was responsible for a specific region. The data were fed, by region, into a computer on a weekly basis and monthly meetings were held so that progress reports could be made by team members. At these meetings, names of individuals who had been interviewed during the preceding period were given as a means of checking off the list of identified community specialists, so that the overall progress of the project could be ascertained. Information filed in the computer did not contain informants' names or other identifiers, as a measure for maintaining confidentiality and anonymity of informants. Each member of the team was paid by the funds made available through a contract with a federal agency (the faculty members were able to buy release time from teaching with contract funds).

Jordan had an occasion to be in the region assigned to one of the faculty members, Brian Cash, and happened to find himself talking with one of Cash's reported informants, Henry Jones. Jordon took the opportunity to ask Jones for clarification of reported data that had puzzled him. Jones appeared confused and asked Jordan why he was asking him "these questions." Jordan explained that he had been curious about specific details of Cash's report and thought this would be an opportune time to get further information. Jones said that he had never heard of Brian Cash, much less having ever talked to him, and furthermore he did not even know a research project was being conducted in his community.

Jordan's Dilemma: Should he accept Jones's statement as a denial of participation in the project to maintain anonymity? Should he accuse Jones of lying? Should he drop the matter for the moment and later tell Cash about the incident? Perhaps Cash had lied about interviewing Jones? Should be confront Cash with this suspicion? Since it was some distance to the field site from the university, should he [Jordan] now seek out other informants Cash had reported on to determine whether or not they had been interviewed? Or, were there other tactics to be employed?

Jordan's Decision

Jordan decided to let the matter drop after his conversation with Jones. Later in the day, he went to the homes of two other individuals with whom Cash had reportedly held interviews. Both of these individuals denied having talked with Cash.

The next day, Jordan attempted to contact Cash, but was told that he was in the field. It was another week before Jordan was able to confront Cash with his "findings." Cash admitted that he had not talked with Jones or the other two individuals prior to the time Jordan was in the community. He admitted that he made-up the data he presented at the meetings and fed into the computer. But, he argued, he "knew what those people were going to tell me anyway and, sure enough, they did this past week. So what harm has been done?" Jordan became angry and told Cash that he was fired from the project, citing item 2b of the Principles of Professional Responsibility; namely, that since the project was to have direct application to public policy formulation, Cash had abrogated his responsibility to the public as well as the project (2b states that an anthropologist "should not knowingly falsify or color his findings"). Cash responded to Jordan by saying that he could not fire him since the contract was awarded to him as much as the other two senior project members.

Jordan then went to the department head and explained the problem. The department head agreed with Jordan that Cash should not have lied about the data in his original report, but that since it all seemed to have worked out okay about the data, Jordan ought to let the matter drop, and finish the social impact assessment.

Jordan agreed to do this, but he developed a plan for verification of the data base in Cash's region. Using personal funds, Jordan hired two students who interviewed all of Cash's reported informants. The results of these interviews were kept in a separate file until the field portion of the project was completed. At the time of the analysis, the data from Cash's region was called up on the computer. This was compared with the students' data collected in the same region. There was sufficient difference in the two data sets so that, coupled with the fact that many informants told the students they had not talked with Cash, Jordan decided to throw out Cash's data and request a return of all payments to him.

Faced with the full range of evidence against him, Cash complied with Jordan's demand for payment and resigned from the project.