History and Objectives Underlying the Formation of ACR's Professional Affairs Committee

Jacob Jacoby, Purdue University
[ to cite ]:
Jacob Jacoby (1977) ,"History and Objectives Underlying the Formation of ACR's Professional Affairs Committee", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 04, eds. William D. Perreault, Jr., Atlanta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 256-257.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1977   Pages 256-257

HISTORY AND OBJECTIVES UNDERLYING THE FORMATION OF ACR'S PROFESSIONAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

Jacob Jacoby, Purdue University

I've been asked by Monty Friedman (Chairman of ACR's Professional Affairs Committee) to spend a few minutes going over the antecedents and objectives underlying the development of ACR's Professional Affairs Committee for the purpose of providing background material for this important four-hour workshop. I am happy to comply with this request. It is my belief that unless we demonstrate a firm commitment to high ethical principles and practices in conducting, disseminating, and applying consumer research, our claim to legitimacy will always be open to serious question. Our credibility can only be as good as our integrity.

THE EARLY HISTORY

The following significant dates stand out in the formation of ACR's Professional Affairs Committee (PAC):

November 1973

In a conversation during the 1973 annual ACR Conference in Boston, Mary Ellen Simon, then a member of our Advisory Committee, commented that one characteristic of professional associations was the fact that they generally had and followed published codes of ethics. After thinking about it for a few weeks, I decided that Mary Ellen was right. The subject of ethics merited additional consideration within ACR.

November 1974

As President-Elect, I outlined my belief regarding the necessity for a formal effort in this regard to the ACR Executive Committee at it's Chicago meeting. Specifically, I proposed that an ad hoc committee be established to explore this subject in detail and report back to us the following year. Approval for the formation of what was labeled the Professional Affairs Committee was unanimous.

December 2, 1974

To confirm an earlier phone conversation, a letter was sent to Prof. Monroe Friedman asking him to assume the chairmanship of the newly established and completely unstaffed committee. He accepted, formed a committee over the next few months, and convened it for several seminal discussions. The members of this Committee consisted of George Brosseau (NSF), Donald Hughes (Sears Roebuck), Laird Landon (University of Colorado), Mary Ellen Simon (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission), and George Szybillo (New York University).

September 1975

Eight months after accepting the job, Money filed the PAC report with our Executive Secretary.

November 1975

The PAC report (and recommendations contained therein) were discussed at the Executive Committee meeting in Cincinnati. One direct result was the decision to devote a half-day to raising and discussing the fundamental issues with the membership-at-large at the October 1976 conference in Atlanta.

INITIAL UNDERLYING RATIONALE

In my December 2, 1974 letter to Monty Friedman, I wrote: "Basically, the charge to your committee is to consider whether ACR needs a set of ethical guidelines regarding such subjects as: (a) research involving consumers, and (b) providing testimony as expert witnesses." Note that these two issues -- which subsume numerous important subissues -- go from the relatively micro level (e.g., the rights of those who serve as subjects in our research, whether these rights are generally safeguarded or being violated, what actions to take in the event of the latter, etc.) to the macro level (e.g., how far should we be generalizing from and extrapolating beyond our data when asked to provide expert testimony before regulatory agencies?). I believe how we approach these kinds of questions will have direct bearing on the future of ACR. Other organizations to which we have some kinship (such as the American Marketing Association, American Psychological Association, and American Association for Public Opinion Research) have been confronting these very same issues and I am very glad that representatives of these organizations have agreed to share their knowledge with us here today. What can we learn from these efforts?

To a great extent, I perceive the subject as bearing directly upon the credibility of ACR as a major voice for responsible, valid, and effective consumer research. Credibility is a difficult thing to establish, but is very easy to destroy. I believed then, and continue to believe now, that to neglect the ethical questions involved in conducting consumer research and having public policy and managerial decisions based upon this research, could place our hard-earned credibility in jeopardy. Obviously, this entire subject involves serious questions and hard decisions since the question of whether we should develop ethical codes of conduct in regard to the activities which I outlined could ultimately involve us in censoring (and even expelling) members who commit serious violations of this code. These are some of the issues which I discussed with Monty Friedman over the phone and which he and the other members of PAC have been grappling with. I will let them fill you in on their efforts in this regard.

NEW DIRECTIONS

Finally, I'd like to raise a new set of questions, also-directly related to consumer research, which would --should ACR decide to move in these areas -- most likely fall under the purview of our Provisional Affairs Committee.

As indicated above, attention has already been directed toward issues surrounding the conduct and utilization of consumer research. However, an intervening step, namely, the dissemination of consumer research, also merits attention. I'm particularly concerned with two sub-issues within this sphere: plagiarism, and the equity (or lack thereof) in procedures being employed by our core journals. The first issue, plagiarism, is obviously a very sticky widget. What should be our policies, if any, in this regard, both with respect to our own publications and to the field in general?

The second issue may seem remote, but is actually closer to home than most would realize. As one of the sponsoring organizations of the Journal of Consumer Research, we share some responsibility in this regard and also have a mechanism through which to suggest changes we deem desirable. A very recent incident which has come to my attention will hopefully serve to illustrate the kinds of issues which I believe we need to confront and raise with the other members of the JCR Policy Board.

Two years ago, one of our more highly regarded colleagues published an article in one of the core journals in the field. (So that there is no mistake in this regard, it was not the Journal of Consumer Research.) This paper quickly elicited two critical commentaries (by former associates of the editor) published several issues later in that journal. A rejoinder to these commentaries was, after a few months delay, submitted to and then rejected by this editor. In rejecting the rejoinder, correspondence shows that the editor (1) unilaterally imposed "special criteria" which he attributed to the delay in receiving the rejoinder, but which, despite several written requests for a statement of these criteria, he never defined either before or after the rejection, (2) misrepresented the position of one of his reviewers (claiming both had recommended rejection when only one had), and (3) engaged in other questionably ethical practices (e.g., having a colleague situated in the same Department as one of the two critics serve as a reviewer for the original author's rejoinder).

After reviewing the facts in this case, the first editor's successor concurred that an injustice had been committed and wrote to the original author: "I do believe you have a right to a rejoinder .... I want to be fair -- and if you can 'revise' I'll give you a shot in the _______ issue." A revision was prepared, submitted, and accepted by this new editor, and a copy-edited version returned to the original author for approval just before this manuscript was to have been sent to the printers. In the editor's own words: "Enclosed is an edited version of your manuscript .... which is tentatively scheduled for publication in the __________ issue." Courtesy copies of this copy-edited manuscript were also sent to the two critics of the original manuscript, stimulating one to write a rather revealing letter to the editor. Among other things, this critic indicated that he expected to be permitted some form of reply to the published rejoinder. The editor, seeking to avoid such an eventuality, then requested and received additional revisions from the original author. After all this, the editor then decided that what he really wanted was a "position paper" and not a "rejoinder" --despite an earlier letter in which he explicitly stated that he believed the author "had a right to a rejoinder." So, in the same letter in which he acknowledged, "I did not help the situation by accepting and then withdrawing your revised manuscript," the editor decided to break his previous commitment to publish the rejoinder on the ground that it would generate additional commentary. Interestingly, only five months earlier, he had discounted this possibility when he wrote: "As is customary in these situations, I will send a copy to [X] and [Y], but do not intend to publish any further comments" (italics supplied).

We thus have a situation in which one editor has acted with questionable ethics and another has broken a commitment to publish a rejoinder. As the matter now stands, the author of the original article is preparing to take his case to "a higher court."

I raise this incident because the question for ACR becomes: What form of redress, if any, do authors of articles published in the Journal of Consumer Research have? To whom can they appeal if they feel they have been treated arbitrarily and capriciously? (To a certain extent, this issue parallels the question of consumer redress in the marketplace.) For those journals published by a single professional organization (such as the Journal of Applied Psychology published by the American Psychological Association, and the Journal of Marketing Research published by the American Marketing Association) the answer is obvious. The author can carry the case to the appropriate organizational officials (e.g., publication boards) and beyond (e.g., Presidents) if and as he so desires. But what of the Journal of Consumer Research -- the journal that we are directly involved in? Where does a wronged author with a legitimate grievance go? What formal procedures can he follow to have his case adjudicated by some relatively independent third party? As a founding and current member of the Policy Board for this Journal (representing the American Psychological Association), I can tell you that we have no such formal procedures worked out for this and a host of other related issues. To leave them to be worked out as they arise is unsatisfactory. Without formal procedures established in advance -- e.g., for how long a period should an editor be committed to accepting a rejoinder? Should "special criteria" be adopted after this point and, if so, just what should the they be? Is it unethical to send a rejoinder for review to the friend of the individual being criticized? If so, should this be explicitly prohibited? etc. -- how will an author know whom to contact and whether he has a legitimate basis for appeal?

Accordingly, I would like to close these introductory remarks by suggesting that our Professional Affairs Committee be asked to tackle this thorny issue and hopefully arrive at a set of recommended procedures and policy guidelines which might be employed by JCR. Given approval from our Executive Committee, these guidelines would be brought to the attention of the JCR Policy Board through our representative on this Board, with the request that they be considered for adoption. Since ACR members represent the second largest block of subscribers to this Journal and have a vested interest in seeing it thrive, it is entirely fitting that we take some initiative in this regard.

Finally, let me express our collective appreciation and thanks to Monty Friedman and his Committee members for addressing these messy but important issues and making substantial progress in so short a period of time.

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