Offers of payment made in exchange for research participation are common. And yet they are often regarded as, at best, a “necessary evil.” This is odd. In most nonresearch contexts, people find payment for goods and services unproblematic. Indeed, when goods and services are not intended as gifts, failure to pay for them is a problem; we call it theft. Why should payments made in the context of research participation be of particular ethical concern?
The target articles in this issue of AJOB point to two novel responses: research participation as unfulfilling work and coercion as subjection. The authors suggest that their concerns can be addressed by offering higher payments for research participation, an outcome we agree with. However, we do not share their ethical worries. It is ethically unproblematic for research participants not to share the goals of research, to be motivated to participate because they lack better options, and to view participation as work, even if it is unsatisfying.