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Data Module #5: Intellectual Property & Ethics

Ethical Data Use

Ethical considerations to keep in mind with research data:


Do not intentionally change, add to, or subtract data for the sake of convenience. It can be tempting to manipulate data when you are short on time or your results don't reflect your desired conclusions. However, your data drives your conclusions, not the other way around. When communicating your analysis and results, make sure you accurately portray what the data shows. Do not ignore relevant data, even if it doesn't fit in with your conclusions. 


Always cite your data sources. The basic elements when citing data are: Author (Creator), Title, Publication Date, Publisher, Version (when applicable), Access Location (e.g. DOI, URL, etc.) The specifics of citation varies between different styles. Many style guides, such as APA, provide guidelines for citing data. There are also some organizations focused on working with data that have created their own guidelines:

citation needed sign

You may know that you do not need to cite common knowledge facts. For example, you don't need to cite the fact that St. Paul is in Minnesota, or that there are 100 cents in a U.S. dollar. You will remember from the Copyright and Licensing section that generally data are not subject to copyright because they are considered facts. Therefore, do you need to cite factual data? In general, the answer is still yes. Citation provides context and authority to the data used in your research.

Privacy and Safety Issues

Some data include sensitive information. Anything that might reveal an individual's identity, compromise an institution's privacy, or affect the safety of people or institutions often needs to be protected. If you conduct interviews with individuals for your research, you cannot share identifying information about them without explicit permission. 

Federal law and Macalester's policy require that, in general, research done by members of the Macalester Community that involves the participation of human subjects must be approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB ensures that participants' rights and safety are protected during the course of the research. For more information, go to Macalester's IRB site.

Image from "Citation needed" by is licensed under CC BY 2.0