The regulations can be ambiguous, but the masturbation paper furore is a result of supervisors’ and reviewers’ lack of vigilance, says Michelle Shipworth
Last week, I was surprised and delighted to hear Twitter academics making a loud case for the ethical review of research.
This sickening case highlights the disconnect between the bureaucracy of research ethics and ethical practice in research. In respective a whether we classify this work as human research, that requires research ethics review, the work clearly had dangerous consequences. We need to embed ethical thinking in all research, not just if we will need to be submitted to a research ethics committee. Research that doesn’t involve humans, can still impact upon humans in serious and unsettling ways.
This sea change in academic attitudes was sparked by a journal article in the well-regarded Sage journal Qualitative Research, in which a University of Manchester PhD student, Karl Andersson, spent three months masturbating exclusively to Japanese shotaimages. Shota, he explains, is “a Japanese genre of comics and illustrations that feature young boy characters in a cute or, most often, sexually explicit way”.
There was no indication in the paper that the “research” had received ethical review or that it was exempt from the need for it. This suggests that the journal editors and reviewers, as well as the author, saw no legal or ethical problems with this “study” or “research materials”. The author’s reflections on the latter are all positive. For example, he notes that “often, very young boy characters would greedily jump over the first cock that presented itself. That…worked for me”.