You conducted a longitudinal study of teenagers’ alcohol and substance use behaviors, including self- reports on their use of illicit drugs. On the informed consent form, you acknowledged (both in writing and verbally to each participant) that there was always a remote possibility that the information they provide could be seen, intentionally or unintentionally, by people who are not involved with the research project—e.g., if there was a fire in the laboratory building, and rather than burn participants’ responses, all of your paper- and- pencil data was strewn across the grounds outside the building. Because it was a longitudinal study, you had a record of participants’ names and their corresponding ID numbers, but kept that record in a separate locked file cabinet in a different part of the lab relative to participants’ data. However, after the fire, the document with participants’ names and ID numbers fell in the same place as participants’ data. Then, before you could collect all of the documents, some were stolen, including the document with the names and IDs, along with some participants’ data. Should you contact those participants to tell them what happened? Or should you just hope that there are no catastrophic consequences for those participants? What else could or should you do? What are your ethical obligations to participants?
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