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Research ethics involves the application of fundamental ethical principles to a variety of topics involving research, including scientific research. These include the design and implementation of research involving human experimentation, animal experimentation, various aspects of academic scandal, including scientific misconduct (such as fraud, fabrication of data and plagiarism), whistleblowing; regulation of research, etc. Research ethics is most developed as a concept in medical research. The key agreement here is the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki. The Nuremberg Code is a former agreement, but with many still important notes. Research in the social sciences presents a different set of issues than those in medical research.
The academic research enterprise is built on a foundation of trust. Researchers trust that the results reported by others are sound. Society trusts that the results of research reflect an honest attempt by scientists and other researchers to describe the world accurately and without bias. But this trust will endure only if the scientific community devotes itself to exemplifying and transmitting the values associated with ethical research conduct.
There are many ethical issues to be taken into serious consideration for research. Sociologists need to be aware of having the responsibility to secure the actual permission and interests of all those involved in the study. They should not misuse any of the information discovered, and there should be a certain moral responsibility maintained towards the participants. There is a duty to protect the rights of people in the study as well as their privacy and sensitivity. The confidentiality of those involved in the observation must be carried out, keeping their anonymity and privacy secure. All of these ethics must be honoured unless there are other overriding reasons to do so - for example, any illegal or terrorist activity.
Research ethics in a medical context is dominated by principlism. Medical research involving human experimentation is overseen by an ethics committee, in most countries working under legislation based on the Declaration of Helsinki and its later revisions.
Research ethics is different throughout different types of educational communities. Every community has its own set of morals. In Anthropology  research ethics were formed to protect those who are being researched and to protect the researcher from topics or events that may be unsafe or may make either party feel uncomfortable. It is a widely observed guideline that anthropologists use especially when doing ethnographic fieldwork.
Research informants participating in individual or group interviews as well as ethnographic fieldwork are often required to sign an informed consent form which outlines the nature of the project. Informants are typically assured anonymity and will be referred to using pseudonyms. There is however growing recognition that these formal measures are insufficient and do not necessarily warrant a research project 'ethical'. Research with people should therefore not be based solely on dominant and de-contextualised understandings of ethics, but should be negotiated reflexively and through dialogue with participants as a way to bridge global and local understandings of research ethics.
In Canada, there are many different types of research ethic boards that approve applications for research projects. The most common document that Canadian Universities follow is the Tri-Council Policy Statement. However, there are other types of documents geared towards different educational aspects such as: biology, clinical practices, bio-technics and even stem cell research. The Tri-Council is actually the top three government grant agencies in Canada. If one was to do research in Canada and apply for funds, their project would have to be approved by the Tri-Council.
Furthermore, it is the researchers ethical responsibility to not harm the humans they are studying, they also have a responsibility to science, and the public, as well as to future students.
In terms of research publications, a number of key issues include and are not restricted to:
- Honesty. Honesty and integrity is a duty of each author and person, expert-reviewer and member of journal editorial boards.
- Review process. The peer-review process contributes to the quality control and it is an essential step to ascertain the standing and originality of the research.
- Ethical standards. Recent journal editorials presented some experience of unscrupulous activities.
- Authorship. Who may claim a right to authorship? In which order should the authors be listed?
Notable research experiments
From the 1950s to the 1960s, Chester M. Southam injected HeLa cancer cells into cancer patients, healthy individuals, and prison inmates at the Ohio Penitentiary. These experiments were especially controversial because many of Southam's subjects did not give informed consent to the injections. Although the prison inmates were aware that they were being injected with cancer cells, the elderly patients at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital and cancer patients did not. As a result of these experiments, the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York decided to suspend Southam's medical license for one year, however, he was instead only placed on a one-year probation. Southam later went on to become the president of the American Association for Cancer Research.
- Medical ethics § Medical research
- Justice (ethics)
- Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA
- Internet research ethics
References and notes
- National Academy of Sciences. 2009. On Being a Scientist: Third Edition. Washington, DC: The national Academies Press. Available at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12192.
- Shaw SE, Petchey RP, Chapman J, Abbott S (2009). "A double-edged sword? Health research and research governance in UK primary care." Social Science & Medicine, 68: 912-918
- "Anthropologists have moral obligations as members of other groups, such as the family, religion, and community, as well as the profession. They also have obligations to the scholarly discipline, to the wider society and culture, and to the human species, other species, and the environment" Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Association, 1998
- Skovdal, M. and Abebe, T. (2012) “Reflexivity and dialogue: Addressing methodological and socio-ethical dilemmas in research with HIV-affected children in East Africa” Ethics, Policy and Environment 15(1):77-96
- Hubert Chanson (2008). Digital Publishing, Ethics and Hydraulic Engineering: The Elusive or "Boring" Bore?. In: Stefano Pagliara 2nd International Junior Researcher and Engineer Workshop on Hydraulic Structures (IJREW'08), Pisa, Italy, Keynote, pp. 3-13, 30 July-1 August 2008. ISBN 978-88-8492-568-8.
- Hubert Chanson (2007). "Research Quality, Publications and Impact in Civil Engineering into the 21st Century. Publish or Perish, Commercial versus Open Access, Internet versus Libraries ?". Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering. 34 (8): 946–951. doi:10.1169/L07-027.
- D. Mavinic (2006). "The "Art" of Plagiarism". Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering. 33 (3): iii–vi.
- AIAA (2007). "Publication Ethical Standards: Guidelines and Procedures". AIAA J. 45 (8): 1794. doi:10.2514/1.32639.
- Skloot, Rebecca (2010). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Broadway Paperbacks. pp. 127–130.
- Skloot, Rebecca (2010). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Broadway Paperbacks. pp. 134–135.
- Skloot, Rebecca (2010). The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Broadway Paperbacks. p. 135.
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- Research Ethics section of the SHiPS (Sociology, History and Philosophy of Science) website provides some useful resources, including case studies relevant to scientific misconduct
- UNESCO - Ethics of Science and Technology
- Bibliography of peer-reviewed journal articles on the history of the use of deception in research, as well as on the histories of experimental ethics.
- Worse than Plagiarism: Firstness Claims and Dismissive Reviews