As doctor-patient and lawyer-client confidentiality is so essential that it’s protected by law, so is the role of confidentiality between researcher and participant. In fact, before researchers can start work on studies, they must explain how they plan to protect the their participants—and that plan must receive the approval of a research ethics committee.
Although researchers do not have to provide confidentiality, when they say they plan to do so in their research plans, then they are bound to do so.
Further binding participants is the informed consent agreement they must sign before starting a study. In it, the researcher must explain whether participants’ identities will be protected and, if so, how it will be protected. If participants are promised confidentiality, then that’s stated in the agreement and that becomes a legally binding promise between the researcher and the participant.
Of course, when the participants are well-known people, people are naturally tempted to know the results.
But legally, if researchers have promised confidentiality to the participants, they have a legal obligation to abide by it.
Whether all of these protocols were followed when baseball players participated in drug testing in 2003, I don’t know. What I do know is that they were promised confidentiality and it was violated.
In his opinion piece from the August 4, 2009 edition of the New York Times, Doug Glanville eloquently explains the sense of violation felt by the players whose drug test results have been leaked to the public.
Having had my confidential comments leaked, I can empathize with their feelings.
Read Glanville’s piece at at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/04/opinion/04Glanville.html