Ethics and Research30th January 2021
Ethics are broadly the set of rules, written and unwritten, that govern our expectations of our own and others’ behaviour.
Effectively, they set out how we expect others to behave, and why. While there is broad agreement on some ethical values (for example, that murder is bad), there is also wide variation on how exactly these values should be interpreted in practice.
As in other aspects of business, all parties in research should exhibit ethical behavior. The goal of ethics in research is to ensure that no one is harmed or suffered adverse consequences from research activities.
This objective is usually achieved. However, unethical activities are pervasive and include violating non-disclosure agreement, breaking respondent confidentiality, misrepresenting results, deceiving people, invoicing irregularities, avoiding legal liability, and more.
As research is designed, several ethical considerations must be balanced:
- Protect the rights of the participant or subject.
- Ensure the sponsor receives ethically conducted and reported research
- Follow ethical standards when designing research
- Protect the safety of the researcher and team
- Ensure the research team follows the design
Research must be designed so a respondent does not suffer physical harm, discomfort, pain, embarrassment, or loss of privacy. Begin data collection by explaining to respondent the benefits expected from the research. Explain that their rights and wellbeing will be adequately protected and say how that will be done. Be certain that interviewers obtain in the inform consent of the respondent. The use of deception is questionable; when it is used, debrief any respondent who has been deceived.
Honesty and Integrity
This means that you need to report your research honestly, and that this applies to your methods (what you did), your data, your results, and whether you have previously published any of it. You should not make up any data, including extrapolating unreasonably from some of your results, or do anything which could be construed as trying to mislead anyone. It is better to undersell than over-exaggerate your findings.
Take care in carrying out your research to avoid careless mistakes. You should also review your work carefully and critically to ensure that your results are credible. It is also important to keep full records of your research. If you are asked to act as a peer reviewer, you should take the time to do the job effectively and fully.
You should aim to avoid bias in any aspect of your research, including design, data analysis, interpretation, and peer review. For example, you should never recommend as a peer reviewer someone you know, or who you have worked with, and you should try to ensure that no groups are inadvertently excluded from your research. This also means that you need to disclose any personal or financial interests that may affect your research.
You should respect anything that has been provided in confidence. You should also follow guidelines on protection of sensitive information such as patient records.
Respect for Intellectual Property
You should never plagiarise, or copy, other people’s work and try to pass it off as your own. You should always ask for permission before using other people’s tools or methods, unpublished data or results. Not doing so is plagiarism. Obviously, you need to respect copyrights and patents, together with other forms of intellectual property, and always acknowledge contributions to your research. If in doubt, acknowledge, to avoid any risk of plagiarism.
You should always be aware of laws and regulations that govern your work, and be sure that you conform to them.
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