Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ethically challenged "researcher" potentially doxes OKCupid website users

Since I had written a bit about the problems with researchers analyzing data from social media platforms without getting prior informed consent (remember Facebook?) I thought this latest fiasco deserves to at least be highlighted. I noticed a mention of the ethical breach in question in my twitter feed (via Vox) as I was taking a break from grading. Oliver Keyes has a well-written take-down of the ethical breach on his blog, as well as a good deal of eye-opening background on the lead researcher (Emil Kirkegaard) in question. The breach is one not only of informed consent but also the principles of the open data movement.

At the moment, Kirkegaard is unrepentant, and Arhus University (where he is currently a grad student) has issued a tepid response. As for Kirkegaard's "research", it largely speaks for itself. Much of it appears in a particular "journal" that is edited by, you guessed it, Emil Kirkegaard. Over half of the entries published in the stable of "journals" at Openpsych.net on which he is listed as editor (Open Differential Psychology, Open Behavioral Genetics, and Open Quantitative Sociology and Political Science) are ones authored or coauthored by Kirkegaard. In reality, Keyes is spot on when he refers to the journal as little more than a blog. The editorial boards consist of individuals who are either pseudonymous or ones who might not be obvious fits for the subject matter for each journal (I'll go ahead and use the term, albeit loosely), and the peer review process appears to be minimal at best. Although Beall's List is exclusively devoted to predatory publishers that amount to little more than vanity presses charging exorbitant fees to their authors with little to no peer review, at least some subset of what Kirkegaard is engaged in is predatory in a much deeper sense. Beall might wish to consider adding Kirkegaard's journals to the list as a warning to anyone biased toward the open data movement who might be suckered into thinking his journals are even remotely legit.

If one does look at Kirkegaard's Google Scholar or ResearchGate profiles, it shall become readily apparent that the bulk of the citations his work garners are self-citations. There are a handful of authors publishing in peer-review journals citing his work as well, although those appear for now to be a small minority. I certainly have plenty of questions that I would love to ask his advisor regarding the amount of oversight s/he has over Kirkegaard's work - after all, graduate students are expected to receive considerable mentoring, and clearly something has gone off the rails in this particular instance. In addition, I wonder what it says about an academic department and its host institution that essentially is facilitating the work of an alleged student who appears to be more interested in abusing a position of privilege. As for the OKCupid users affected, whatever one might want to say about internet and privacy, it should go without saying that they did not deserve to be Kirkegaard's victims.

I may say more if time permits.

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