Computer underground Digest Wed Sept 13, 1995 Volume 7 : Issue 73 ISSN 1004-042X Editors:

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Computer underground Digest Wed Sept 13, 1995 Volume 7 : Issue 73 ISSN 1004-042X Editors: Jim Thomas and Gordon Meyer (TK0JUT2@MVS.CSO.NIU.EDU Archivist: Brendan Kehoe Shadow Master: Stanton McCandlish Field Agent Extraordinaire: David Smith Shadow-Archivists: Dan Carosone / Paul Southworth Ralph Sims / Jyrki Kuoppala Ian Dickinson CONTENTS, #7.73 (Wed, Sept 13, 1995) File 1--Some Questions about the Rimm/Cyberporn Study File 2--Cu Digest Header Info (unchanged since 19 Apr, 1995) CuD ADMINISTRATIVE, EDITORIAL, AND SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION APPEARS IN THE CONCLUDING FILE AT THE END OF EACH ISSUE. --------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Wed, 13 Sep 1995 22:51:01 EDT From: Jim Thomas Subject: File 1--Some Questions about the Rimm/Cyberporn Study SOME THOUGHTS ON CARNEGIE MELLON'S COMMITTEE OF INVESTIGATION Jim Thomas / Department of Sociology Northern 13 September, 1995 Illinois University (jthomas@sun.soci.niu.edu) ((BACKGROUND: As an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University this past year, 30 year old Martin Rimm published a research project in the Georgetown Law Journal on "pornography" on the Net. Time Magazine featured the project as a cover story in its July 3 issue. The project was attacked for intellectual and ethical improprieties, and CMU has begun an investigation into the project. What follows are just a few of the questions I had after following the project and its media coverage for these past two months--jt)) The Martin Rimm "Cyberporn" study, while thoroughly discredited on intellectual and other grounds, remains a problem for those involved in it. CMU sources indicate that the CMU provost has formed a committee with the faculty senate to investigate questions that have been raised about the study's procedures and ethics. (See CuD #7.58 and 7.59; A complete background, including the full study and a critique by Donna Hoffman and Tom Novack, can be found on the CuD homepage links at http://www.soci.niu.edu/~cudigest). Some might wonder why there exists a need to pursue an investigation of a discredited undergraduate project. To some, it may even appear that continued inquiry into its procedures and the background of Rimm, its "principal investigator," constitute an unnecessary witchhunt, reflecting a lynch-mob mentality. Such a view is erroneous and short-sighted. Continued questioning of the study is not an attempt to "disprove" or minimize Rimm's "finding" that 83.5 percent of Usenet images are "pornographic," to deny that there is sex on the Net, or to minimize the very real concerns of parents and others about limiting children's access to undesirable material. An airing of the study and its procedures should be pursued for several reasons. First, the results of the study continue to be used uncritically, especially by those who would exaggerate the prevalence of objectionable Internet material. Whether the figures approximate reality is irrelevant. The issue is that there is no basis in *this* study to give confidence in the figures. Normally, this would be no more than an intellectual dispute to be resolved by additional research. However, it is how the data were acquired and manipulated that cause concern. This leads to the second reason for pursuing questions about the research. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that serious ethical improprieties underlay the study. This, too, would normally be an in-house matter best left to a University and the subjects involved. However, at least some persons involved in the study turned an intellectual exercise into a highly visible public media event. As a consequence, the public has a right to address troubling questions that subvert both the intellectual credibility and the procedures by which claims were made and continue to be defended. Third, this is a cyberspace issue. It's no secret that researchers have found computer-mediated communication a rich source for ethnographic and other data collection. The apparent ethical improprieties are relevant to the broader intellectual community, as well as to the on-line public, to the extent that they suggest several ways by which scholars and others can go astray in violating basic human subjects canons. Finally, if sloppy research based on questionable data and practices produces claims that are used to subvert First Amendment rights in cyberspace, and when that research has been explicitly identified as the product of one of the leading U.S. research institutions, that institution has the responsibility of assuring the credibility of that which was done in its name. Pursuing questions raised by the study is not, or at least ought not become, a mechanism for public humiliation of the participants or an attempt to try them in public. Instead, raising further questions provides exactly what academic scholarship requires: An examination of procedures and methods of public claims in a public forum in a way that allows those expected to accept such claims an opportunity to assess the credibility and biases of the researchers. To that extent, as any good ethnographic scholar knows, questions about how data were gathered, about scholars' potentially biasing background experiences, or about interpretative procedures, are of direct relevance to the public. As a consequence, the CMU Committee of Inquiry might consider the following questions about the study as a way to facilitate independent assessment of the research. WHAT WAS THE "CMU/RIMM STUDY?" Time Magazine's July 3, 1995, issue featured as a cover story a Georgetown Law Journal article by Rimm ("Marketing Pornography on the Information Superhighway"), that uncritically reported the study's findings in a sensationalistic manner (One of the story's fuzzy graphics depicted a nude male presumably copulating with his computer). Although selective readers were given access to the study, including Ralph Reed (the Executive Director of the Christian Coalition), three journal commentators, Senator Charles Grassley, who misrepresented the study's findings to hype his anti-pornography Bill (S. 892), and Philip DeWitt, the Time writer who had access to the study as an exclusive, others who attempted to obtain a copy were refused. The reason: It was embargoed. Rimm claimed that the GLJ embargoed it, but the GLJ claimed otherwise (see below). The study purported to be an exhaustive analysis of "pornography" in cyberspace, and it contained numerous methodological flaws and demonstrably inaccurate claims (See the Hoffman and Novak critique). Among the controversial aspects of the study was the implication that it was a legitimate CMU-sponsored project. In fact, it was an ambitious undergraduate research project. But, once the CMU/Rimm connection was made, it became known as the "CMU study" in the media and in Congress. WAS THIS THE "CMU" STUDY? Before the study appeared in Time or the GLJ, Rimm appeared on Nightline discussing the "CMU study," Senator Grassley alluded to the "CMU study" (and planned to have Rimm testify in a Congressional hearing), and those supporting the study (including Ralph Reed and Catherine McKinnon) referred to the "CMU study." However, a recent call to Don Hale, Vice President for University Relations at CMU, said that CMU itself never claimed that the study was done under the auspices of CMU. "People were misinterpreting how we described the study from the gitgo," he said. And, he does make a compelling case. Hale explained that he often uses the term "CMU study" as a convenient shorthand to describe research projects done by faculty. "I never thought about the implications," he said, indicating that he would take more cautious steps in the future. He was convincing, and there is no reason to doubt his sincerity. But, his words do not reflect the actions of others, including some CMU personnel. When I spoke to several CMU personnel about the study in the first week of July before the controversy broke, they explicitly and unequivocally associated CMU with the study. There is often a thin line between shorthand connotation and summary denotation, and to my view, some CMU personnel crossed over that line. Then, there is Rimm himself. In the study, he explicitly and repeatedly refers to the study as the "CMU study". In his ABC Nightline appearance, Rimm and others, including Ted Koppel, called it the CMU study. The media, including the New York Times, called it the CMU study. The commentators on the GLJ article called it the "CMU study". Despite the resulting brouhaha, CMU did not disassociate from or officially respond to the study, until it issued a cryptic press release in Mid-July: Carnegie Mellon University is responsible for the integrity of research conducted at the university. As a community of scholars, in which truth and integrity are fundamental, the university generally examines carefully issues raised concerning the propriety of research conducted by members of the university community, taking due care to protect the rights of those members. Provost Paul Christiano already has informally sought and received advice from some faculty members about the study conducted by undergraduate student Marty Rimm and published by the Georgetown Law Journal. He will soon form a committee of distinguished and knowledgeable faculty to examine in more detail the issues that have been raised about the study. The committee will recommend the appropriate next steps, if any, that should be taken relative to this study and, if necessary, relative to policies on undergraduate research. The release indicates that this was no longer accepted by the school as the "CMU Study," but rather was now the work of "undergraduate student Martin Rimm." THE CMU INQUIRY Later in July, CMU Provost Paul Christiano adhered to CMU policy in forming a three-person Committee of Inquiry to investigate whether there existed sufficient grounds to form a five-person Committee of Investigation to address allegations of research impropriety. On August 8, Provost Christiano issued the following memo: The Committee of Inquiry, which was formed to conduct a limited inquiry into allegations directed at the subject research, now has completed its work. That committee has recommended, in accordance with the above-cited policy, that several allegations warrant the conduct of a thorough investigation, through a five-member faculty Committee of Investigation. This committee, to be formed jointly by me and the leadership of the Faculty Senate, is expected to submit its recommendations to me, to the president of the university, to the leaders of the Faculty Senate, to the dean of student affairs, and to the researchers themselves. The specific recommendations that have been provided to me by the Committee of Inquiry remain confidential, according to the above-cited University policy. However, I expect the Committee of Investigation to examine a full range of issues relating to the article and to the research preceding it. Until the Committee of Investigation has completed its work to determine which, if any, allegations are valid, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on this matter. Indeed, all those who believe in fairness and in due process should take special care not to prejudge the conduct of persons who have engaged in this or any other research. While the well being of human participants, as well as the search for truth, must always be essential guiding principles, so also must be respect for the reputation and academic freedom of researchers and for due process. Carnegie Mellon University will continue to adhere to those principles. The committee will presumably ask a number of questions to address public concerns about the study. Among the troublesome questions include the following: QUESTIONS FOR RIMM Although the personal biography and life of a researcher can be and often is of relevance to especially qualitative research, private lives rarely are of significant relevance. This case is is an exception. If, for example, a scholar has a history of deceit, fabrication, or other behavior that raises questions about the veracity of research, the private history related to such acts becomes relevant. In Rimm's case, there seems to be disturbing history of behavior that would be of special concern to professionals assessing his credibility. A few credibility-challenging examples include: His authorship of a book listed in the Library of Congress records as: "How to Exploit Women, Dupe Men, and Make lots of Money." There appears to be no public copy available in the LoC, so only excerpts alledged to be from the book are available. In CyberWire Dispatch, Brock Meeks cites an excerpt: Into my mailbox flow excerpts of Marty's "how to" manual. Here is a sample of his turgid prose, taken from the Usenet posting, from a chapter on Anal Sex: "When searching for the best anal sex images, you must take especial care to always portray the woman as smiling, as deriving pleasure from being penetrated by a fat penis into her most tender crevice. The male, before ejaculation, is remarkably attuned to the slightest discrepancy; he is as much focused on her lips as on her anus. The slightest indication of pain can make some men limp." *QUESTION: Was this book used to entice the research subjects (the sysops) to participate in the study? "Books in Print" information reveals the following information: AUTHORS: Rimm, Martin Speranza, Carolyn; Illustrator TITLE: The Pornographer's Handbook; How to Exploit Women, Dupe Men, & Make Lots of Money PUBLISHER: Carnegie; 03/1995 EDITION: Orig. Ed. PAGINATION: 67p. ISBN/PRICE/BINDING: 0962547654;$5.95 pap. It has been reported on The Well that "Carnegie Press" and Rimm share the same address and phone, among other things. One close observer of the study raised the following questions: *QUESTION: In what states did Martin Rimm register "Carnegie Press" as a corporation? Did he do so in Pennsylvania? In New Jersey? In Delaware? Elsewhere? *QUESTION: If Rimm registered "Carnegie Press" as a corporation in April 1994, or before that date, is there an ethical issue raised by his intention to profit from grant-funded research on nonconsenting subjects? *QUESTION: Is there an ethical issue raised by the choice of the name "Carnegie Press"? Was the book satire, was it a methodological access key, or was it intended as a serious marketing guide? It's hard to tell, but the following post from Rimm to an anonymous correspondent raises further questions: Date: Sun, 18 Dec 1994 22:02:01 -0500 (EST) From: Martin Rimm To some extent, but the truth is I am ahead of the pornographers. However, with mainstream pornographers moving on-line, some of the best software engineers in the country are now working for the pornography industry, and I expect within a year or two they will leap ahead of me. Recently, Kenneth Guarino, of Southe Point Enterprises, the largest adult video distributor in the country, hired a team from Microsoft. ..................... Once my study is published, it will be obvious to them why such research is useful. In a two hour video, or magazine with 100 pictures, pornographers never knew what the customers really wanted. Now they can find out. Personally, I'm getting out of the pornography business, as I want to move on to other subjects on the net. *QUESTION: Which side of the fence was Rimm on? Rimm appears to be no stranger to controversy involving deception. Press reports indicate that, at age 16, Rimm posed as an Arab sheik to "infiltrate" an Atlantic City casino to "expose" teenage gambling. A New Jersey news story raises further questions. An excerpt: From the Atlantic City Press, Aug. 30: CYBERPORN RESEARCHER LINKED TO A.C. PRANKS * Marty Rimm, author of a controversial study of pornography on the Internet, was investigated by gaming officials for an alleged publicity stunt gone haywire and other hoaxes involving the Taj Mahal casino. ____________________________________________ By RAY ROBINSON The Press of Atlantic City Online Marty Rimm, author of a widely publicized study of pornography on computer networks, was suspected by state investigators of pulling two creative -- and potentially expensive -- pranks on the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in 1990, according to documents reviewed by The Press. Although such behavior of itself does not necessarily subvert credibility, it does raise a subsequent question of whether similar methods were used to gain access to a research setting or produce a written product that is embargoed prior to publication in a non-peer reviewed outlet. *QUESTION: Was the access to confidential information and other data from sysops or other sources gathered under pretense? Rimm states explicitly in his study that his "research team" did not generally reveal to research subjects, the sysops, that they were being studied (GLJ, 1995: 1878). CyberWire's Brock Meeks wrote: How did Marty pull this off? Adult BBS operators aren't known for their openness and trusting attitudes, in general. When I asked Marty how he was able to do what had taken me years to do -- develop sources inside this network of adult BBS operators --he said: "[Y]ou didn't have powerful software which you could use to convince them that you indeed had something to offer. What took you years I could do in anywhere from five minutes to two months. You'll have to figure the rest out." *QUESTION: Did Rimm lie to gain access to sysops and their data? In his introduction, Rimm lists more than a score of professors, administrators, and staff as part of the "research team." Some have disassociated from the study or indicated that they had little, if any, significant role in it. What role did the listed members of the research team play? Where they full collaborating participants in a "research team" as he implies? Rimm's primary advisor, CMU Professor Marvin Sirbu, in a letter to EFF staff counsel Mike Godwin, even alluded to several of the professors, presumably two of whom are at the University of Oregon and one of whom is a Dean, as collaborators as a means to justify the legitimacy of the study. Consider the following: From: Martin Rimm Newsgroups: cmu.cs.discussion Subject: Re: More Censorship Date: Fri, 4 Nov 1994 00:31:15 -0500 The team of researchers consists of seven professors, three deans, four lawyers, two lobbyist groups, six undergraduate research assistants, three doctoral students, three programmers, and an art instructor. Martin \enddata{text, 547925302} Date: Tue, 4 Apr 1995 21:25:59 -0400 (EDT) To: mnemonic@eff.org Subject: Fwd: INTERNET ADULT BBS STUDY We appreciate your interest. We are making every effort to get you a complete copy of the study before publication. In the meantime, we would greatly appreciate an independent check of our legal notes, which the journal helped us with. (No one on our team is a lawyer). We need to return our final edits to the journal on Thursday, April 14. If before then you have a chance to review the attached, your comments would be most appreciative. Thanks again, Martin Rimm Principal Investigator It is interesting that in the first public post, Rimm listed four lawyers as part of the research team. In the April passage, Rimm indicates that no lawyers are members of the team. Of itself, this may seem unimportant until one asks whether this was, in fact, an authentic research TEAM. *QUESTION: Who, precisely, was on the research team, and what was their role? *QUESTION: Was this a legitimate research team, or was it simply window-dressing used to enhance the study's credibility? *QUESTION: Was, as Rimm claims, the data actually collected by a team, or was he, himself, the primary data-gatherer, using the language of research inappropriately? *QUESTION: If this was, in fact, a legitimate research team comprised of administrators and faculty, then what was their role in the demonstrable deception? If this research was in fact a true collaborative effort, would that not then also mean that that a score of CMU personnel are complicit in demonstrably unethical research? In the study, Rimm claims to have talked to a number of sysops, both by voice and e-mail. Robert Thomas, sysop of Amateur Action BBS, currently serving a sentence in a Federal penitentiary for making available adult material on his system that, while not illegal in his own state of California was illegal in Tennessee, was one of Rimm's research subjects. Rimm's account of events does not correspond with e-mail corespondence between Rimm and Thomas provided by Thomas's wife (CuD 7.59). *QUESTION: Did Rimm in fact communicate with all the sysops as he claimed? *QUESTION: Did Rimm's communication with the sysops indicate the kind of ethical impropriety that the released e-mail between he and Robert Thomas suggests? *QUESTION: Why doesn't the Committee of Investigation talk with Robert Thomas in order to ascertain how data from AA BBS were acquired? Early attempts to obtain a copy of the study from Rimm or the Georgetown Law Journal were barred by claims that the study was embargoed. In a December 18, 1994 post to Mike Godwin, Rimm claimed that the GLJ embargoed the study. In posts on The Well, a popular public access system in California, Time's Philip DeWitt claimed that he had an exclusive with Rimm. Kathy Ruemler, current editor-in-chief of the GLJ, wrote in a public Usenet post on September 6: V. RUMOR: TIME was restricted from having the study independently reviewed by an agreement with Law Journal. FACT: The Law Journal had no such agreement with TIME. Isn't TIME the one who referred to it as an exclusive? *QUESTION: Somebody seems to be lying. Who? An argument could be made that Rimm's advisor, Marvin Sirbu, and not Rimm, ought bear responsibility for improprieties in the study. After all, an advisor is ultimately responsible for assuring that proper ethical and methodological procedures are followed. In this case, such a judgment might be premature. In 1984, Rimm was involved in a study of high school gambling with Henry Lesieur, then a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins, and Bob Klein, reportedly a high school counsellor. Lesieur apparently was drawn to Rimm by his infiltration of a casino at 16: "That just intrigued me," he said. The study involved giving students in five high schools questionnaires. Rimm distributed them in one high school, Lesieur said. Was Rimm sufficiently apprised of ethical issues a decade ago such that he should be aware of appropriate behavior now? Lesieur could not say, but he observed: We had meetings and we went through the (ethical) protocols. ......... People didn't have to respond, it was totally anonymous. It (the study) went through human subjects, he was part of the process, and he followed the protocols. Although Rimm was a third author on a paper, Lesieur indicated that Rimm, in fact, did no writing. Now, it's unreasonable to expect a college undergraduate to fully understand the nuances of research ethics, let alone recall them a decade later. But, it's not unreasonable to expect that, given this apparent background in research, Rimm would not be aware that there are ethical protocols. Therefore, those who see Rimm as a "victim" of inadequate supervision have a weak case: Rimm was in a position to know that there are guidelines for protecting human subjects and that his own methodological descriptions indicates that he violated them. However, this still leaves several questions that Professor Sirbu might clear up. QUESTIONS FOR SIRBU Although Sirbu was quoted in a July New York Times story as saying that he never saw the final article that was submitted to GLJ, and that it was not the report he would have written, it is clear that he was closely involved with Rimm throughout the study. At issue here isn't the final article, but how Rimm could continue to collect data in ways that raise serious questions about why the advisor, who was professedly close to the study, did not engage in corrective intervention. In November correspondence with Mike Godwin, Sirbu claimed that he had no problem with the methodology and would be glad to discuss it. But, Sirbu seemed well-aware of the study long before that, as a memo to several CMU faculty and administrators indicates: Date: Tue, 27 Sep 1994 23:11:43 -0400 (EDT) From: Marvin Sirbu To: Erwin Steinberg , Michael Caldwell Murphy , Don Hale Subject: Martin Rimm's research Cc: Jessie Barbour Ramey , Martin Rimm Gentlemen, I understand that you have been in touch with Martin Rimm regarding his research. Since Martin is currently working on this for credit under me, I have asked him if he would permit me to be included in any meetings that you may arrange. I have been meeting regularly with Martin since last Spring, and believe that he is nearing completion on a ground-breaking study that makes an important scholarly contribution. He has developed some very interesting methodological approaches, and has amassed a remarkable database of information on his chosen subject matter. As Martin and I have discussed, there is still much to do in interpreting the data. The bulk of his data collection focuses on privately operated Adult Bulletin Board Systems (BBS's) offering sexually oriented imagery. He has also examined partial data on the availability and consumption of such imagery at CMU from the Internet, although this data is not central to his work. We have had numerous discussions as to the most appropriate venue for publishing this work since it may appeal to groups as diverse as those concerned with telecommunications policy, law, mass communications, marketing science, or sociology of sexual deviance. We have also been discussing potential sources of external research support. Our most recent thinking has been to produce a Working Paper/Technical Report that could be disseminated from CMU pending determination of the most appropriate avenue for formal publication. Because of the subject matter, this research could provide fodder for everyone from the Kinsey Institute to Jerry Falwell to Andrea Dworkin, as have previous scholarly studies in this field. I might not have chosen myself to raise these issues via a message directly to the President, but sooner or later this study will come out and I suspect there will be significant interest among the press. It is certainly appropriate that CMU be prepared. Martin and I both concur that the way the research is publicized should be handled with great care, but I know that he is anxious, after working on this for more than a year, to get something out before he starts applying to graduate schools this fall. Among other things, Sirbu reveals his knowledge of Rimm's access to "availability and consumption" of the Usenet readership habits of CMU system users. It is well-established that users have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Sometimes, fulfilling administrative duties requires system administrators to monitor use, files, or other material that a user intends to be private. However, sometimes such monitoring raises questions. In the Rimm study, for example, users' Usenet newsgroup configuration files were systematically tabulated. Although reports differ on whether systems engineers or third parties monitored the files, it is clear that, according to the Rimm study, data on individuals were collected and compared, and the aggregate results then made public. It remains unclear whether, despite the serious appearance of impropriety, any breaches occurred. However, the question is of sufficient import to be addressed: *QUESTION: Did the acquisition of individual user information as described in Rimm's methodology, actually occur? If so, is such acquisition consistent with the ethical guidelines on human subjects? If Sirbu were as close to Rimm's study as his public pronouncements and private correspondence indicate, he surely would have, or should have, known of the practices Rimm employed. *QUESTION: "What did Sirbu know and when did he know it?" As Sirbu should know, "research team" has a special connotation among scholars. A research team is not a casual circle of people who may occasionally interact. Sirbu's professed close relationship with Rimm and involvement in Rimm's research would give him knowledge of whether a "research team," as the term is conventionally employed by reputable scholars, did in fact exist. Sirbu's claim (above) that some high-level faculty "collaborated" with Rimm adds credence to, and perpetuates the image of, an established group of professionals well-integrated into a research project directed by Rimm as "principal investigator." Given the fact the some "team" members were unaware that they were team members or have denied that they were members at all, one cannot help but suspect that the public is being deceived into believing that the study is more credentialed than it actually is. *QUESTION: Can Sirbu explain precisely what the "research team" members did to justify the label? *QUESTION: If there was, in fact, no "research team" in the conventional use of the term, why did Sirbu allow the fiction to persist? Perhaps the most important question Sirbu could address is the attempt to acquire funding for Rimm's project. It appears that Sirbu's attachment to the study included attempts to ride the funding gravy train by cashing in on Rimm's methodology. In November, Sirbu approached EFF's Mike Godwin to solicit EFF support for the project: Date: Mon, 7 Nov 1994 22:05:16 -0500 (EST) From: Marvin Sirbu To: mnemonc@eff.org Subject: Your visit to CMU As you may have gleaned from reading about the events at CMU, I have been working with Martin Rimm on a study of the availability and consumption of sexually explicit imagery on Adult BBS systems and, to a lesser extent, on Usenet. Xxxx Yyyy suggested that EFF might be interested in the work we've been doing. Among other things, we have data which could be analyzed to show the geographic distribution of consumers of adult BBS systems. Such data might be useful in countering or confirming assertions that "community standards" in places like Memphis are different from other regions of the country. I'll give you a call when we are both back in our respective cities. Marvin Sirbu Neither EFF's mission nor resources allow for such support, and the solicitation was rejected. But, federal funding remained a possibility. David Banks, a CMU statistics professor, provided some technical guidance for Rimm. According to Banks, in early November, 1994, he, Sirbu, and Rimm met to discuss what might be done with the paper. Rimm, reports Banks, needed money, because he sunk some of his own funds into the project. According to Banks: Also, Martin was aware that the Department of Justice had cut down AA BBS and seized their log files. And that info should contain names, log files, and it seemed reasonable to suspect that DOJ would have that set analyzed and that they would pay money for it. The grant attempted to link our interests with DoJ prosecutorial interests. According to Banks, the proposal had four research goals: 1) A summary of the statistics of "pornography" traffic that would identify the proportion of BBSes with a high percentage of material that might be worth prosecuting; 2) Consumption and usage trends over time: If pornography or pedophilia increases, then it would indicate that the BBS is trying to cultivate that market; 3) Information on individual downloads and covariance of user preferences that would correlate which types of files are most-likely to be associated other downloaded files; 4) "Placing it in the space of adult bulletin boards; adult BBSes have different personalities, characteristics, and specialties...who is the worst offender on pedophilia?" This, Banks explained, would allow DoJ to distribute its prosecutorial resources more effectively. Rimm was not listed as a co-principal investigator on the second round of grant submission, Banks explained, because DoJ would run the grant through CMU, which would be more difficult if Rimm were not a student. However, Rimm was written in as a consultant, according to Banks. Banks said that he often expressed his concern with ethical issues, both orally and in writing, and in July, 1995, he withdrew from the project because of these concerns. Why is the grant significant? The grant application raises serious ethical questions for Sirbu and Rimm. One fundamental canon of accepted ethical procedures is that researchers do nothing to put their subjects at risk (see CuD 7.58). Yet, that is precisely what this grant application would do. In his methodology, Rimm explains that he selected BBSes that were either the largest and most active "pornography" distributors, or that appeared to be aggressively moving into the "pornography" market (GLJ, 1995: 1876-77). If Banks's summary of the DoJ grant proposal is accurate, these BBSes are precisely those that the grant was designed to help prosecute, because they constitute the population that Rimm claimed to study. That Rimm and Sirbu then submitted a grant to the DoJ that could be used to bust the very people who were his subjects goes beyond any breach of research ethics that I can recall, ever, in the social sciences. This is not a minor lapse of ethics or an error in judgment. It is a fundamental violation of the most basic principles of the treatment of human subjects. Sirbu acknowledges that he was not only fully aware of Rimm's methodology, but that he would defend it. Hence, he was not unaware of the population of BBSes from which Rimm drew his data. From the existing evidence, it is clear that Sirbu was the driving force behind the DoJ grant that would put those subjects at severe risk. In fact, the grant was *DESIGNED* to put those subjects at risk. *QUESTION: How does Sirbu explain what appears to be a sanctionable violation of ethics? *QUESTION: In the (presumably required) Human Subjects application for CMU, did Sirbu fully apprise the Human Subjects review committee that, while there may be no "human subjects" in the proposed DoJ grant study, the research was designed to put at risk subjects of a previous (SURG) CMU funding of which he was the supervisor? There is a curious footnote relevant to the grant application. In the GLJ article, Rimm devotes considerable space to describing Amateur Action BBS, and calls the sysop, Robert Thomas, the Marquis de Cyberspace (GLJ: 1912). The propriety of the GLJ discussion has been discussed elsewhere (eg, CuD 7.58). What has not been discussed is Rimm's relationship with this research subject. Mike Godwin contacted Thomas's wife, and reports part of the response: That Martin Rimm was a member of the Amateur Action BBS, that he quarrelled publicly and privately with Robert and Carleen Thomas about how they ran their BBS (among other things, he wanted them to change the way their BBS software kept track of downloads), that his messages to them after they refused to comply with his "suggestions" grew angry and threatening, that he declared publicly that he would not renew his membership at Amateur Action, and that he *did* renew his membership in February of this year. Godwin also revealed that Thomas's wife produced the printout of a message from Rimm to Thomas in which which Rimm tells Thomas how much he admires him and how he hopes to be his "friend forever." In July, Godwin asked Thomas's wife if there were any information in her records pertaining to Rimm. Godwin summarized it on The Well: For example, his application for a renewal of his AABBS membership lists the same street address as that of the "Carnegie Press." A different phone number, though -- this one doesn't get you that weird message from the phone company when you call it. Instead, it just rings. Credit card number with (as I recall) an April 96 expiration date. Purchase on February 17 of a "six month" membership, which, according to Carleen, actually means he'll be current until August 17, 1995. Rimm first solicited membership in Amateur Action BBS in May of 1994. This is interesting since he's told at least one person that he didn't even know Robert Thomas's name until July of '94 when Thomas was convicted on obscenity charges in Memphis. Since the application from Rimm used in May of 1994 has Robert Thomas's name and address listed at the top, this seems unlikely. Want to know the best thing about the '94 application form? It was *mailed* in. It's filled out in Rimm's handwriting. If the records are accurate, Rimm, now involved in a funded study designed to facilitate prosecution of active "pornographic" BBSes, renewed his membership on the BBS that he described as the "market leader in adult pornography" (GLJ, 1854). Given Sirbu's professed close association with Rimm and the study's methodology, it is inconceivable that he was not aware of how the BBS data were collected. *QUESTION: Why did Sirbu not intervene to assure that ethical procedures were followed, given the evidence that they were not? *QUESTION: Did Sirbu himself conceal information about unethical data gathering? There are so many questions that CMU's Committee of Investigation could ask that only a portion can be suggested here. Whatever the answers to the above questions, it is clear that something rather unacceptable occurred in the conduct of this research. The visibility of the study and the use of the "findings" by policy-makers, which was an explicit intent of the study, require a thorough airing of these concerns. AN AFTER THOUGHT Here's why I continue to be concerned with the Rimm "Cyberporn" study and Carnegie Mellon's handling of the investigation of it. I teach research methods. I teach methods to sociology students in a senior capstone methodology course. I teach methods to graduate students in a seminar that draws students from several disciplines. In these courses, I include a strong ethical component. I'm not a dogmatic ethical purist, and I recognize the difficulty of walking the thin line between "ought" and "ought not." But, there are two fundamental principles I emphasize to students: 1) Always protect research subjects from any harm that your research may cause, and 2) Never deceive or lie to research subjects. It appears that not all at CMU share these precepts. Tonight I began the ethical component of the graduate methods seminar. The course is comprised of Masters and Doctoral students and Faculty. Each of the students has a topic, derived either as a course project or from their thesis/dissertation work. One student described a project that required "infiltration," deception of informants, and role-playing to secure the confidence of subjects. I thought of Rimm's study and the ethical message it would convey to this student: Research that specifies deceit and leads to harm is not only acceptable, but publishable in a reputable journal. "If they can do it at CMU, why can't we do it at NIU?" What can I say to the students and faculty about "real world" ethical behavior? What can I say to the student who argues that it may be acceptable to lie to subjects for the purpose of data gathering? How can I explain the proper role of a faculty research supervisor if a faculty advisor at a major research institution violates fundamental ethical precepts and the school seems to condone it? If Carnegie Mellon University remains silent on the questions raised, it will be complicit in a standard of research behavior that simply cannot be condoned. How CMU responds to the individuals involved is an internal matter that hopefully will be handled with compassion. However, this does not preclude an explicit and unequivocal statement, derived from a thorough investigation, that disavows both the Rimm study and the research model on which it is based. ------------------------------ Date: Sun, 19 Apr 1995 22:51:01 CDT From: CuD Moderators Subject: File 2--Cu Digest Header Info (unchanged since 19 Apr, 1995) Cu-Digest is a weekly electronic journal/newsletter. Subscriptions are available at no cost electronically. 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CuD material may be reprinted for non-profit as long as the source is cited. Authors hold a presumptive copyright, and they should be contacted for reprint permission. It is assumed that non-personal mail to the moderators may be reprinted unless otherwise specified. Readers are encouraged to submit reasoned articles relating to computer culture and communication. Articles are preferred to short responses. Please avoid quoting previous posts unless absolutely necessary. DISCLAIMER: The views represented herein do not necessarily represent the views of the moderators. Digest contributors assume all responsibility for ensuring that articles submitted do not violate copyright protections. ------------------------------ End of Computer Underground Digest #7.73 ************************************

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