interview is given on the occasion of an
invitation from Prof. Jafar Mehrad to visit the Islamic
World Science Citation Center (ISC)
and the Regional
Information Center for Science and Technology (RICeST) in Shiraz
from September 30 to October 5, 2014 and to give a number of lectures
information concept and on information ethics. For further information
see here. This interview was
published in Webology,
11, 2, 2014.
How do you define Ethics?
Ethics is a philosophical
discipline dealing with a critical analysis of customs (mores)
of human behaviour. The Greek term philosophia ethiké
was coined in the
Western tradition by Aristotle. In his Nichomachean Ethics he
difference between ethos or the character of a person and philosophia
ethiké as the reflection upon it. Aristotle
philosophy' (philosophia praktiké) into three
sub-disciplines dealing with
the formation of the individual character (ethiké), the
issues of administration of the
family or house (oikos) (oikos, oikonomiké) and
(politiké) corresponding to the subdivision of society in
has a long and complex
history that includes the translation and commentaries of Aristotle's
into Arabic and Persian in the Middle Ages. See my research paper Apud
Arabes. Notes on the Greek, Latin, Arabic and Persian Roots of the
Information (2014) for further details.
its present understanding,
Ethics deals with issues of values, customs and rules of fair
play in today's
society as well as in other epochs and cultures. Due to the complexity
issues in areas such as biology, business, medicine and media, ethical
reflection is subdivided into, for instance, bioethics, business
medical ethics and media or information ethics depending on whether
ethics is supposed to deal with mass media and information ethics with
issues. A further sub-division is appropriate when dealing with ethical
of Internet research (Internet research ethics).
is important to stress the
difference between ethics as a philosophical discipline and morality as
given behavioural rules in a society. This difference between the
(ethics) and its object (morality) is important due particularly to the
that ethics and morality are often used as synonyms in everyday
Modernity, Ethics is conceived as dealing with what we ought to
for the pre-modern Western tradition Ethics deals with different views
life or of what we want to do in order to achieve good
traditions are interwoven. The modern utilitarian tradition, for
closely related to traditional views of Ethics.
important aspect of
today's understanding of Ethics concerns issues of individual and
responsibility with regard to the impact of our choices in light of
the influence of science and technology on society as well as on the
environment (ecological ethics). While information and
communication technologies (ICTs) open doors to new technological and
scientific possibilities, they also act as a catalyst to an
encounter with otherness, ensuring through digital mediums the en masse
collision of hitherto closed ethical systems and cultural worldviews.
collision increases, on one hand, the potential for cultural conflicts,
creating, on the other hand, an ungrounded and abyssal reality that
necessitates an existential accountability to ethical commitment apart
adherence to any universal or metaphysical standards, demanding a
a pluralistic foundation to ethics that both understands and accounts
difference. It is only through such a foundation that commonalities can
deals not only with the foundation of morality but also
with its problematization. Many issues that arise from science and
cannot be adequately dealt with on the basis of traditional customs and
of fair play alone.
What is the relation
Information Ethics and Internet Research Ethics?
my understanding of
Information Ethics, allow me to quote from the site of the International
Center Information Ethics (ICIE) of which I am responsible:
Information Ethics as
ethics deals with
ethical questions particularly:
- in the
information ethics in a narrower sense)
computer science (computer
- in the
biological and medical
sciences (bioinformation ethics)
- in the
mass media (media
- in the
information science field (library ethics)
- in the
(business information ethics)
Information Ethics as a
Descriptive and Emancipatory Theory
ethics as a
descriptive theory explores the power structures influencing
informational attitudes and traditions in different cultures and epochs.
Ethics as an
emancipatory theory develops criticisms of moral attitudes and
traditions in the information field at an individual and collective
level. It includes normative aspects.
development of moral
values in the information field,
creation of new power
structures in the information field,
intentionalities in information theories and practices,
development of ethical
conflicts in the information field.
Ethics for Information
- to be able
to recognize and
articulate ethical conflicts in the information field,
activate the sense of
responsibility with regard to the consequences of individual and
collective interactions in the information field
- to improve
for intercultural dialogue on the basis of the recognition of different
kinds of information cultures and values,
- to provide
about ethical theories and concepts and about their relevance in
everyday information work.
the scope and
relevance of Internet research ethics, I would like to quote from the
Research Ethics by
Elizabeth Buchanan and Michael Zimmer in the Stanford Encyclopedia
and historically, Internet research ethics is related to computer and
information ethics and includes such ethical issues as data privacy and
confidentiality, integrity of data, intellectual property issues, and
Internet has evolved into a more social and communicative tool and
ethical issues have shifted from purely data driven to more
or face-to face analogies may not be applicable to online research. For
example, the concept of the public park has been used as a site where
researchers can observe others, but online, the concepts of public and
are much more complex. Thus, some scholars suggest that the specificity
Internet research ethics calls for new regulatory and/or professional
authors analyze the
following ethical issues in Internet research, namely privacy,
consent, and cloud computing.
A. Buchanan and
Annette N. Markham, both members of The Association of Internet
(AoIR) together with an AoIR ethics committee have developed guidelines
Decision-Making and Internet Research (2012).
They deal with some "major tensions" concerning human subjects,
data(text)/persons, top-down versus bottom-up approaches to ethics.
context defined and conceptualized?
How is the context
(venue/participants/data) being accessed?
Who is involved in
What is the
primary object of study?
How are data being
managed, stored, and represented?
texts/persons/data being studied?
How are findings
What are the
potential harms or risks associated with this study?
What are potential
benefits associated with this study?
How are we
recognizing the autonomy of others and acknowledging that they are of
worth to ourselves and should be treated so?
issues might arise around the issue of minors or vulnerable persons?"
of Internet Research Ethics
edited by Elizabeth A. Buchanan, Charles E. Ess and
Annette N. Markham, of which three issues
(2008, 2009 and 2010) are available so far, describe the scope of
Research Ethics as follows:
Research Ethics has developed as its own field and discipline,
questions have emerged: How do
diverse methodological approaches
result in distinctive ethical conflicts – and, possibly, distinctive
resolutions? How do
diverse cultural and legal traditions
shape what are perceived as ethical conflicts and permissible
do researchers collaborating across diverse ethical and legal domains
and resolve ethical issues in ways that recognize and incorporate often
markedly different ethical understandings?
Finally, as "the Internet" continues to transform and diffuse, new
research ethics questions arise – e.g., in the areas of blogging,
network spaces, etc. Such questions are at the heart of IRE
such general areas as anonymity, privacy, ownership, authorial ethics,
issues, research ethics principles (justice, beneficence, respect for
and consent are appropriate areas for consideration."
further insight, see the
the Center for
Information Policy Research, University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee (USA) .
is apparent that there is
a close relationship between Information Ethics and Internet Research
if the field of Information Ethics is focused on issues of the Internet.
What do you
understand by 'research integrity'?
understanding of research
integrity aligns fully with the University of Oxford's "Code
of Practice" on "Academic
integrity in research".
quote from it:
University expects all members of the University including staff and
and those who are not members of the University but who are conducting
research on University premises or using University facilities or
for their research, to observe the highest standards of ethics and
the conduct of their research. In pursuance of such high
in proposing, conducting and reporting research. They should strive to
the accuracy of research data and results and acknowledge the
themselves with guidance as to best research practice and standards of
integrity; (...) for example, the Code of Practice for Research
by the UK Research Integrity Office or the Concordat to Support
with ethical and legal obligations as required by statutory and
authorities, including seeking ethical review and approval for research
appropriate. They should ensure that any research undertaken
with any agreements, terms and conditions relating to the project, and
for proper governance and transparency.
to ensure the safety, dignity, wellbeing and rights of those associated
and transparently manage any conflicts of interest, whether actual or
reporting these to the appropriate authority as necessary.
that they have the necessary skills and training for their field of
their accountability to the University and their peers for the conduct
due regard to subject disciplinary norms, acknowledge that authorship
research output should be attributed only to a researcher who has made
significant intellectual, scholarly or practical contribution to that
and is willing to take responsibility for the contribution.
the requirements and guidance of any professional bodies in their field
research. Researchers who are members of a regulated profession must
requirements and guidance of the body regulating their profession.
to comply with this Code of Practice and Procedure may give rise to an
allegation of Misconduct in Research (as further defined in 3).
Research may be a ground for disciplinary action, and if serious,
you give some examples of
would like to highlight the
issue of plagiarism, an issue that has become a major problem in German
also in schools. Some prominent persons such as the former German
Defense, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, and the former German Minister of
Education and Research, Annette Schavan, resigned as ministers after
universities of Bayreuth
and Düsseldorf revoked their doctorates due to plagiarism. See
much do these
differ from other cases in a traditional media environment previous to
fact, the example of
Annette Schavan shows that although she wrote her dissertation in 1980
in a traditional media
environment there is no great difference with regard to the misconduct
other cases in today's Internet environment. What is different is that,
to the development of plagiarism software, it has become easier to
cases than it was in the past.
are the goals of
The International Center
for Information Ethics is an interdisciplinary and
world-wide network of colleagues interested in information
ethics. The aim
of the Center is announced on the ICIE website as follows:
academic website on information ethics. It is a platform for exchanging
information about worldwide teaching and research in our field. It
opportunity to meet each other. It provides news on ongoing activities
different kinds of organizations. And it is free. The success of this
depends on the will of the people interested in this subject to share
knowledge with others."
1999, long before the
present online social networks were created, I tried to create an
community in order to better exchange ideas and projects and to
This idea was and is supported by the Center for Art and Media
(ZKM) as well as by different
sponsors such as the VolkswagenStiftung that made possible
national and international conferences,
particularly the first International
conference on Intercultural Information Ethics
held in Karlsruhe in 2004.
to the support of Dr.
Felix Weil (Stuttgart),
we started in 2004 the free online journal International Review of
Information Ethics (IRIE).
2001 the ICIE launched a book series
at Fink Verlag (Munich)
consisting to date of five volumes.
Center has co-organized
several international conferences and meetings, particularly in Africa,
under the patronage of UNESCO, with the support of the Department
Communications of South
Africa, in cooperation with the African
Centre of Excellence for Information Ethics at the Department
Information Science of the University of Pretoria, South Africa and the
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (USA).
is the impact of
ICIE in the development of Information Ethics? Are there any other
think that the main impact
has been to make academic research on Information Ethics more visible
engaged with different parts of the world, particularly in Africa but
Latin America (Brazil, Mexico) and in the Far East (Japan, China). A
but more formal organization is the Internet Society for Ethics and
(INSEIT). See more here as
well here regarding teaching
of information ethics.
What are the main
Information Ethics today?
are cutting-edge topics
such as transparency, privacy, and secrecy in the post-Snowden era. See
They are intertwined with issues dealing with big data, the Internet of
and robotics. See Ethics for the
Internet of Things .
issues are closely
related to the development of the information and knowledge society
different shapes according to cultural settings and political agendas.
impact of the internet in developing countries, known as the
'digital divide', is still a major issue particularly concerning the
of mobile technologies for emerging economies as well as for the
sector. See The
Digital Future of Education .
play a major role in
and political movements: See
New ICTs and Social Media: Revolution,
Counter-Revolution and Social Change, issues that are
closely interrelated with online social networks: See Ethics of
Online Social Networks.
is an ongoing societal change concerning the issue of citizenship, now
of research centred around changing understandings of citizenry as
digitally influenced and informed through Internet identities, where
takes place, in part, online, and where perspectives of nationalism and
become intertwined with the Internet as traditional borders are greyed
ideas of ‘home’ and ‘space’ are supplanted by the digital realm. See Global
ethical issues of
cyber warfare will also be a major research topic in information
See Cyber Warfare.
What is your advice for those
interested in doing research in the field of Information Ethics?
I would recommend to those interested in the
field to keep their eyes open with
regard to present and future challenges of the digital age. To
interdisciplinarily and interculturally with students world-wide in
achieve a common basis for research, acknowledging differences and
commonalities concerning methodologies and objects of study. To give
the academic and personal recognition everyone deserves. To look back
retrieve again and again the rich cultural and philosophical traditions
humanity in order not to become obsessed by the present dynamic of
technology with its narrow-minded and
shortsightedness share-value oriented perspective.
And, above all, I would recommend to those
interested in the field to look carefully at all kinds of dystopian and
pathological phenomena of the digital age. Such phenomena are often
from the research focus of the digital global players and their
departments no less than from academic research institutions due to
mechanisms that prescribe students not to critically assess anything
the official paradigms and agendas of the institution. It is important
for the student of information ethics to understand that the university
institution often wrongly assumes the necessary ethics ‘quotient’
through mandatory intro ethics courses, and as such feels no need for
further focus on ethics, neglecting in the process a deeper and
understanding of ethics in all facets of education, especially
education in a digital age.
There is no single discipline or subject
not in need of a deeper critical ethical reflection, especially
pathological phenomena of the digital age. In other words, ethics
all of us. It concerns the kind of human beings we want to be and the
human beings we want not to be as humanity enters and strives to
unchartered waters of the digital age.
thank Jared Bielby
(University of Alberta, School of Library and Information Studies,
Canada) for corrections, additions, and critical remarks.
update: November 5, 2014