I didn't think this would fit as a comment on your blog, so I tried to find an email address for you but found this. I hope you don't mind.
Have you seen the recent news article in Science? Here's a link: http://www.sciencemag.org/
Basically, a journalist sent a spoof paper to a large number of open-access journals to gauge the quality of peer-review. The paper was scientifically flawed in ways that would be obvious to any half-competent reviewer, and realistically it should not have passed beyond an editor's desk without rapid rejection. In fact, that's exactly what happened when he submitted the paper to some journals. Many, though, not only did not require significant revision, but simply accepted the paper for publication, clearly indicating total incompetence at that journal.
I thought of you and asking for your take on this because over on "In the Pipeline", Dr. Derek Lowe's blog mostly about pharmaceuticals and chemistry, his discussion includes a comment thread that features some accusations about the need for, among other things, institutional oversight as what this journalist did constitutes research on human subjects.
That's a long run-on sentence, sorry. Short version: is it unethical to seek out incompetence and/or fraudulent patterns of behaviour by this kind of spoofing?
guess you're asking two different questions: One is whether this kind
of activity required ethics approval. I suspect this might yield
different answers in different countries. On an ethical level though:
In this particular instance, strictly speaking, the people tested were
not tested in their personal capacity (eg as patients) but as
professionals doing their jobs. It's a bit like me writing to a
colleague who is a clinician at UoT asking a question about how he
thinks professionally about a particular article. Say I ask another 20
other professionals in other universities. Should my intention to
publish the results of my survey mean I need to ask for ethics
approval? My honest view on this matter is that anyone who is
approached in a professional capacity as opposed to a personal
capacity doesn't need the kinds of special protections afforded by
That's not to say that formal rules and regulations may have been
breached in this particular case. I just don't know (and truth be
told, I don't care either).