Triggered by a question of Svein Brurås to all his colleagues today, I started thinking about the ethics of my work. My initial response to his crass challenge, where he claimed that journalists are constantly involved in an open discussion of their ethics, while media scholars never discuss this, was to refer to my chapter on reflexivity in research. This chapter is mainly concerned with what results does the different theories and methods I use give, how does it skew the results, how do I influence the objects of my study and what does this imply as to the level of precision and openess of my study. Do I manipulate the results? Do I manipulate the people I use as sources? Am I too critical or too accepting of certain topics or questions?
As far as I am concerned, these questions are central to the ethics of a media scholar in the humanistic sciences. If I was a sociologist basing my work on statistics, I'd have to consider what parts of the material I made available to the public, what kind of information should or should not be possible to cross-check. If I was a clinical psychologist searching for the reactions of the body to certain stimuli, I'd have to consider what stimuli are acceptable and whether I really need electrodes connected to the eyeballs of my subjects... In all cases, protecting the source is weighed against learning as much as possible, and the political implications of the research.
This is however such an ingrained part of methodology, that it has become invisible. Perhaps what we need is, like the journalists, to make our questions more publicly visible? Some of the methodology debates at the Department of Media Science in Bergen in the late eighties early nineties were certainly heated enough for good entertainment value.