Ethics Ethics Ethics!

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

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Research is your friend.

 “Because of the way the human mind works, we are, in a sense, always doing research – but not always doing scientific and scholarly research.” – Berger (2014)

Humans by nature are inquisitive beings and so ‘who, what, when, where, why, how’ questions are part of everyday practice but they often aren’t overtly realised by individuals to be a form of research. This collaboration of information to guide personal decisions we make daily is the basis of scholarly research which is more specific, systematic and objective with a greater concern for knowledge about the real truth as opposed to the personal opinion.

Dominick and Wimmer (2013) have explained the two main research methods which have been adopted globally;-

Qualitative research:

  • It is the interpretation and analysis of case studies, texts, media criticisms and theoretical work. Focuses more on trying to describe what happened and why and focus on economic, political and social considerations.

Quantitative research:

  • Processing data collected through statistics to explain rather than interpret something. Statistical techniques are applied to gain information – utilises numbers, magnitude and measurements through experiments, content analysis, surveys, questionnaires.

These two approaches are not mutually exclusive so they can be complementary to each other as well as be used alone for a greater, in-depth understanding.

When this use of rigorous scholarly research is applied to specifically media research, it is used to better understand the role of popular culture, the media and other forms of communication in society, the role of the media in socialising people to accept rules and conventions and indoctrinating people into political and socio-economic systems, the influence of the industries that produce and distribute cultural content and the role of government in determining why and how industry and individuals might be supported and regulated (Bertrand and Hughes 2005).  Media scholars draw on ideas and theories of philosophers, psychologists, social scientists, linguists, economists and educators and this multidisciplinary approach aims to offer a more well-rounded and complete analysis.

Researching the media is a huge umbrella and Berger (2014) has broken it down into 5 specific communication types:

  • Intrapersonal: Communicating with ourselves, thinking about how we will respond to situations we expect to arise.
  • Interpersonal: Communication between ourselves and a relatively small group of people, the conversation and interaction between all parties.
  • Small group: Communication in small groups but large enough that interpersonal doesn’t occur, e.g. a teacher + classroom – a more one way rather than interaction between all students and the teacher.
  • Organisational: How organisations communicate with members of the organisation and other interested parties.
  • Mass Media: Communication flows from senders of messages to a large number of receivers of messages, e.g. radio, TV, film, internet and social media

As an avid user of social media with an interest in marketing and advertising, the aspect of the media in which I would like to research is how businesses have tapped into the 24/7 global connectivity that is allowed by social media and used platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to advertise to users and generate interest. I wish to highlight the effects of the mass media messages and so I would use quantitative techniques such as statistical change over time and surveys to show my results.

Berger, Arthur A. (2014) ‘’What is research?’ in Media and communication research methods: an introduction to qualitative and quantitative approaches’, 3rd ed., SAGE, Los Angeles, pp. 13-32.

Bertrand, I., & Hughes, W. P. T. (2005) ‘Media research methods: audiences, institutions, texts’, Palgrave, New York.

Wimmer, R., & Dominick, J. (2013) ‘Mass media research: An Introduction’, 9th ed., Cengage learning.