U.Va. Professor Leads Effort to Write Ethics Statement for Linguistics Research

June 4, 2009 — Lise Dobrin, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the linguistics program at the University of Virginia, was instrumental in writing the first-ever ethics statement for the Linguistics Society of America. Dobrin chairs the society's ethics committee and fostered the society's acceptance of the statement, according to an article in Inside Higher Ed.

"We urge linguists to consider how their research affects not only individual research participants, but also the wider community," the ethics statement says.

Until recently, many in linguistics have relied on other disciplines' ethics codes, Dobrin said. But much of the work in linguistics today involves endangered languages, which are spoken by individuals who need special protection and courtesy, the statement says.

"The source of our data is now people," she said.

The linguistics society's action follows a recent trend in other social sciences responding to institutional review boards at research universities. These boards are charged with reviewing projects that involve human groups. Many social scientists argue that the review boards – created in part to protect the interests of human subjects in medical research – are not well-equipped to review work outside of the biomedical arena.