The Council of the Animals and Society Section of the American Sociological Association wishes to express its support for Scott DeMuth.
As sociologists, we all follow the American Sociological Association’s Code of Ethics, which expressly states that our research participants have a right to confidentiality. The ASA Code of Ethics also states that: “Confidential information provided by research participants, students, employees, clients, or others is treated as such by sociologists even if there is no legal protection or privilege to do so. Sociologists have an obligation to protect confidential information and not allow information gained in confidence from being used in ways that would unfairly compromise research participants, students, employees, clients, or others” (Section 11.01.b). People living in the United States are much more familiar with—and laud—journalists who protect the confidentiality of their sources. Sociologists are equally obligated to maintain the confidentiality of ours. This scholar-participant confidentiality is a centerpiece of research ethics, and we have come a long way in creating ethical codes to protect our research participants in many ways, including maintaining confidentiality. We urge the judge, prosecutor, and U.S. attorney to recognize the vital importance of confidential participation to academic research.
As sociologists in the Animals and Society section of ASA, we are disturbed by the persecution of Scott DeMuth for his particular research interest in the animal rights movement. The Animal Enterprise Terrorist Act has such a wide range of applicability that animal rights activists may now be classified as “terrorists” if they engage in a number of activities, normally protected by the First Amendment, if they “interfere” with an animal enterprise. This, however, does not mean that all activists are “terrorists,” nor that sociologists who study such activists are, either. We therefore also urge the judge, prosecutor, and U.S. attorney to consider the meaning of academic freedom and the right of Scott DeMuth to study animal rights activism without fear of prosecution for his research interests.
The Council of the Animals and Society Section of the American Sociological Association