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Project Results

Here you can find the various research results of the individual FeKoM-sub-studies.

Semi-Structured Interviews

In our first sub-study, we conducted 30 semi-structured interviews with German media and communication scholars at different qualification levels. In addition, 18 semi-structured interviews were conducted with experts from the fields of third-party funders, peer reviewers, journal editors, ethics committees and didacticians. The interviews have so far (05.02.24) been evaluated from the perspective of different thematic aspects:

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

The researchers see opportunities in the encouragement of self-reflection that IRBs provide and in the standardization of practical procedures. Challenges mentioned include the expectations of the IRBs and the time frame of the review, which some interviewees consider to be too restrictive. It is also clear that research ethics reviews by IRBs are not yet universally established as a standard in the field. However, many interviewees do not consider this to be a necessary requirement, but rather see it as situation-dependent, e.g. if the study design makes it necessary. At the same time, the nationwide institutionalization of IRBs is generally welcomed as a political signal.

Source: Schlütz, D., Zillich, A. F., & Roehse, E.-M. (2023). Ethikkommissionen in der Kommunikations- und Medienwissenschaft: Qualitätssicherung oder „Forschungsverhinderungsanstalt“? Hochschulmanagement, 18(1), 31–37.

Automated analysis of digital data traces

The results show that the interviewees fundamentally welcome the automated analysis of communication as an advance in science in order to identify empirical patterns in aggregated digital data traces and thus be able to depict a more comprehensive picture of communicative behavior. The participants see challenges above all in the anonymization of the automatically collected data, in the question of whether and under what circumstances informed consent can be assumed and in the handling of sensitive data such as real names or sexual preferences. The findings also show that the researchers interviewed have developed initial solution-oriented strategies to meet these challenges, although these are mostly based on their research practice and less on systematic information.

Source: Zillich, A. F., Roehse, E.-M., Link, E., Möhring, W., & Schlütz, D. (2023). Forschungsethische Herausforderungen der automatisierten Analyse von digitalen Datenspuren. Vortrag auf der Jahrestagung der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft (DGPuK), Bremen, 19.05.2023.

Internet Research Ethics

Good research practice faces both ethical and methodological challenges that cannot always be met at the same time. This is also true for the study of digital trace data and digital media. However, questions of Internet research  ethics (IRE) have so far played a subordinate role in German media and communication studies, especially regarding quantitative methods. We identified two central themes, mirroring the theoretical debate about (1) privacy and  informed consent and (2) minimizing harm. Overall, our results show that researchers have developed casuistic strategies to address the various ethical challenges in studying the Internet. These strategies are often based on  practical research experiences rather than training or available information. This indicates the importance of having an ongoing discourse about IRE, integrating research ethics training into higher education, and providing practical recommendations.

Source: Zillich, A. F., Schlütz, D., Roehse, E.-M., Link, E., & Möhring, W. (2023). Practicing Internet research ethics: challenges and solutions from a German perspective. Comunicazioni Sociali, 2, 191-202, https://doi.org/10.26350/001200_000185

Considerations in survey research

The results show that the interviewees seek to balance methodological and ethical requirements in survey research. At the same time, challenges in the context of the consideration processes in each individual case as well as fundamental concerns regarding the importance of research ethics become clear.

Source: Zillich, A. F., Schlütz, D., Roehse, E.-M., Möhring, W., & Link, E. (under review). Die „Gretchenfrage“ der Empirie: Ethisch-methodische Abwägungsprozesse in der Umfrageforschung. Publizistik, 69(4).

Online-Survey

As a further sub-study, a quantitative online survey was conducted with empirical scholars in communication and media research (N=186).

Overall, the results of the online survey show that the respondents attach importance to research ethics and there was a consensus that its importance will increase in the future for various reasons. However, it also became clear that research ethics is a controversial topic: it is seen as demanding and stressful, but at the same time as a quality criterion for scientific research. Research ethics decisions were made in various contexts in the everyday work of the interviewees. They played a role above all in the area of data protection, which can be classified as an independent subject area alongside research ethics. This result indicates that legal and research ethics issues are intertwined in the perception of researchers. The practice in which research ethics decisions are made was primarily characterized as a process of cooperation and individual initiative: solutions were sought together with colleagues, but also alone. For example, the participants expressed a desire for further research ethics materials to support their daily work. Overall, the results underline how important it is to maintain, continue to develop and deepen the discourse on research ethics in communication and media studies.

Source: Roehse, E.-M., Möhring, W., Zillich, A. F., Schlütz, D. & Link, E. (2023). Forschungsethische Praxis in der Kommunikations- und Medienwissenschaft – ein Einblick in die Sicht der Forschenden. Publizistik, 68(4), 459-489. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11616-023-00820-9

Group Discussions

In addition, three group discussions were held with six to seven citizens each and recorded on video. The evaluation shows that the participating citizens have specific expectations of trustworthy researchers and good scientific practice, on the basis of which central principles guiding research ethics decisions can be derived. The participants associated the term scientific research in particular with certain subject areas (especially medicine, health, technology) and differentiated between industrial research (practice) and university research (theory). They also associated scientific research with the fact that certain hypotheses are to be confirmed and that research is therefore steered in a certain direction from the outset. Competence and professionalism were named as key characteristics of trustworthy researchers; acting fairly was rated as less relevant for trustworthiness.

Source: Roehse, E.-M., Möhring, W., Zillich, A. F., Schlütz, D., & Link, E. (2023). Forschungsethisches Handeln und Vertrauen in die Wissenschaft? Gruppendiskussionen mit wissenschaftlichen Laien. Vortrag auf der Jahrestagung der Fachgruppe Journalistik/Journalismusforschung und Fachgruppe Wissenschaftskommunikation der DGPuK, Passau, 21.09.2023.

Pre-study experimental survey – An eye-tracking-study

As a pre-study for the planned experimental survey, the eye-tracking study "Consenting Without Being Informed: Testing Approaches to Improve Consent Procedures in Online Surveys" was conducted in collaboration with EYEVIDO. The experimental study examined whether and how participants read or evaluated the study and privacy information at the beginning of an online scientific survey, and to what extent the way the information was presented influenced both information and consent behavior. We were interested in which tabs were unfolded and which information was read and for how long.
We provide summarized results of the study as a video, which was presented at the 72nd Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA).

Source: Zillich, A. F., Link, E., Csonka, E., Schlütz, D., & Möhring, W. (2022). Consenting without being informed: Testing approaches to improve consent procedures in online surveys. Vortrag auf der Jahrestagung der International Communication Association (ICA), Paris, Frankreich, 28.05.2022.

 

Experimental Surveys

In our final sub-study, we conducted three online experiments (NExp1 = 1,321, NExp2 = 991, NExp3 = 990) with citizens. In addition to the eye-tracking study, they also build on the results of the group discussions and systematically investigate the effect of different research ethics aspects on the credibility and reputation of empirical science. The results show, among other things, that there are no significant differences in terms of perceived information or understanding when comparing the different forms of visual presentation.

Source: Zillich, A. F., Link, E., Roehse, E.-M., Schlütz, D., & Möhring, W. (2023). Zwischen Vertrauen und Wissen. Eine experimentelle Studie zur Wirkung unterschiedlicher visueller Darstellung von informierten Einwilligungen. Vortrag auf der Jahrestagung der Fachgruppe Methoden der Publizistik- und Kommunikationswissenschaft der DGPuK, Potsdam, 28.09.2023.

We also investigated the influence of ethical behavior on trust in scientists, moderated by science-related populist beliefs. The results of our study show that ethical misconduct is negatively associated with trust in scientists. Furthermore, the relationship between ethical misconduct and trust in scientists was influenced by both science-related populist beliefs and scientific literacy. Although individuals with high science-related populist beliefs generally have less trust in scientists, the negative effect was even more pronounced for individuals with low science-related populist beliefs. Our results also show that ethical misconduct reduces trust in science among both low and high science literate individuals. This shows how important it is for researchers to transparently discuss and reflect on ethical behavior in order to promote trust in scientists.

Source: Zillich, A. F., Schlütz, D., Roehse, E.-M., Möhring, W., & Link, E. (under review). Populism, research integrity, and trust. How science-related populist beliefs shape the relationship between ethical conduct and trust in scientists. International Journal of Public Opinion Research.