Print Email Facebook Twitter Release Share Font Size: A A A A
Grad challenges court order
WSU alumnus fears confidentiality in research at risk
Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – In 1993, Rik Scarce was jailed for 159 days under a "contempt of court” citation for refusing to cooperate with a federal grand jury. He refused to release interviews he conducted with "earth liberation” activists, claiming the First Amendment "free press” clause as his defense.
Scarce argued for a researcher’s right to safeguard confidential communications, following the American Sociological Association’s Code of Ethics. The code forbids sociologists from violating promises of confidentiality that they make to research participants.
After his release, Scarce enrolled at Washington State University, where he earned his Ph.D. in sociology in 1995. Now a professor at Skidmore College, he stands by his decision and fears what will happen if other institutions "give in.”
This year, Boston College was issued a court order to release oral-history records on the sectarian strife in Northern Ireland. The college has already released some documents to the Police Service in Northern Ireland to help with the investigation of a 1972 murder, despite the fact the information was protected by confidentiality contracts.
Scarce told the The Chronicle of Higher Education that he is worried about what this type of behavior will do to future research.
"If I cooperated, who would ever answer a journalist's questions or a researcher's questions about the radical environmental movement?” Scarce said. "Without that kind of information, we are all left in the dark.”
To read Scarce’s full interview, visit The Chronicle’s website.