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J Interpers Violence. 2014 Dec;29(18):3290-307. doi: 10.1177/0886260514534987. Epub 2014 Jun 5.

Research ethics and case studies in psychology: a commentary on Taus v. Loftus.

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Brown University, Providence, RI, USA


Loftus and Guyer have been criticized for the methods they employed in investigating an anonymous case study published by Corwin and Olafson. This article examines the ethical dimensions of their investigation. Loftus and Guyer have offered three defenses for their actions. All three of those defenses lack merit. Their investigation did not constitute oral history because it failed to comport with the basic requirements of that practice. Their investigation did not constitute ethical journalism because of the unjustified use of anonymous sources and the clear violation of basic fairness. Their investigation did not constitute justified medical research because of a failure to analyze or weigh the harms against the benefits. Their methods also violated ethical principles for psychologists, including the rule against activities that could reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist's objectivity. This case demonstrates that there is no ethical way to investigate a clinical case, without the patient's approval, that is both comprehensive enough to provide strong scholarship and yet respectful enough of privacy and medical confidentiality to honor important professional norms.


Taus v. Loftus; case studies; confidentiality; ethics; objectivity

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