Weerakkody 2008 states that “ethics are widely agreed upon moral principles about what is right and wrong” and that “ethical research ensures that the researcher is doing the right thing: by the project, participants and society at large and the environment.” It’s a topic with lots of blurred lines as it is highly subjective; different people will have different ideas and standards about what is right/wrong, acceptable/unacceptable yet we need to abide by this jigsaw puzzle of rules and regulations to peacefully coexist with others. Moral development occurs all throughout life ethical norms are so ubiquitous that one might be tempted to regard them as simple common sense. On the other hand, if morality were nothing more than common sense, then why are there so many ethical disputes and issues in our society?
Because of this blurred line between personal views, formal ethics guidelines are established and maintained to safeguard the interest of all parties involved by organisations and government such as Institutional Review Boards, Human Research Ethics Committees, professional Codes of Ethics and Codes of Professional Behaviour.
Why be ethical when researching you ask?
- Being morally appropriate promotes the aims of research – against the fabrication, falsifying, or misrepresenting of research data and for the promotion of truth, knowledge and avoidance of error.
- Unethical behaviour can adversely affect research results by alienating participations that then become reluctant to participate. Unethical research also reflects badly on individuals, businesses and professions.
- Research often involves a great deal of cooperation and coordination among many different people in different disciplines and institutions. Ethical standards promote thevalues that are essential to collaborative work, such as trust, accountability, mutual respect, and fairness.
- Ethics ensure that researchers can be held accountable to the public – the project should never negatively harm in anyway participants, society at large and the environment.
- Many of the norms of research promote a variety of other important moral and social values, such as social responsibility, human rights and animal welfare, compliance with the law, and health and safety. Ethical faults in research can significantly harm human and animal subjects, students, and the public(Sales and Folkman 2000).
And because when it comes down to it, it’s just the right thing to do.
Ethics should be applied to the entire research process, from the research design, data collection and analysis to reporting and publication.
There are four main ethical principles for research (Weerakkody 2008):
Autonomy – researchers and participants respect the rights/values/decisions of other people and participants are able to exercise self-determination and give consent after being informed of the characteristics of the research.
Non-Maleficence – no intentional harm will be inflicted on another
Beneficence – the removal of existing harms and discussion of benefits for others – must weigh potential benefits against harmful risks and to be used complementary to non-maleficence
Justice – people should be treated equitably and benefits of research should be shared with all who qualify (participants and the public alike)
Sales, B. D., & Folkman, S. E. (2000), ‘Ethics in research with human participants’, American Psychological Association
Weerakkody, N. D. (2008), ‘Research ethics in media and communication’, in Research Methods for Media and Communications, Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand, South Melbourne, Vic., pp. 73-91