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Ethics in Research

Ethics is the study of principles relating to right and wrong conduct, that is, morality. Ethics includes the standards that govern the conduct of a person, especially a member of a profession. In other words it is the study of human values and moral conduct. Ethics in research environment plays a very indispensable role in defining the accepted and unaccepted behaviors. (Nachmias &Chava 1987).  Research ethics entails application of fundamental ethical principles to a range of topics relating scientific research or any other research. Research ethics therefore is a frame work applying broad ethical principles to the responsible conduct of research and use of any outcome resulting from research (Allan 1998). There are various principles that act as guidelines in defining what is ethical and what is not in research scenarios.  Some of these principles include:

  1. Voluntary participation- this requires that people (respondents) should not be coerced into participating in a research.
  2. Informed consent- this requires that the participants be informed about the procedures and risks involved in a research and must give their consent to participate. Informed consent is derived from the value placed on individual freedom of choice. It also requires that Participants should volunteer for the research project and they also should be given enough information about the research project so that they can make an informed judgment about participating in it. (Nachmias &Chava 1987).
  3. Risk of harm- researchers should never cause harm to their subjects. Ethical standard require that researchers should never put the participants in situations that might cause harm to them. (William 2006).
  4. Confidentiality and anonymity – this principle require that participants’ confidentiality and anonymity be maintained and their personal privacy be safeguarded. The identity of the participants should not be revealed unless their consent is obtained prior to beginning a research .(William 2006).
  5. Social responsibility- researchers should be aware of their professional and social responsibility in communities and to the society in which they live and work. This requires them to apply and make public their knowledge in order to contribute to the public good. (American Sociological Association).
  6. Honesty and integrity- this requires researchers to honestly report data, results, methods and publication results. They should conduct their research in a way that inspires trust and confidence. They should not knowingly make statements that are false, misleading or deceptive. (American Sociological Association).
  7. Professional competence-researchers should strive to maintain the highest levels of competence in their work; they should recognize the limitations of their expertise; and undertake only those tasks for which they are qualified by education, training, or experience. (American Sociological Association).
  8. Deception- this standard principle of ethics requires that a researcher should not mislead the respondents or his subjects about the nature of the research. (William 2006).

Research case 1

When we look at this research that was carried out about dorm life campus whose findings were kept secret for fear that they might create a furor in the campus community because no extensive analysis of alcohol use was planned; the following ethical components come out:

(i)  Social responsibility

This research seems to have fallen short of this standard ethical principle. It is required that a researcher should apply and make public their knowledge in order to contribute to the public good. It is through his research that appropriate plans for extensive use of alcohol will be planned that would bring change to the campus community. By keeping the finding of the research means that this problem of violation of alcohol restriction that is affecting over 60% of the residents will continue without coming into public attention. It is through making the report public that will instigate the relevant authority to pay attention to this problem and put in place appropriate remedy measures. Although initially these findings will create a furor  in the campus community but in the end they will be for the good of the society because it is through this research findings that appropriate reforms will be put in place to make sure that no resident in the community violates restrictions  on alcohol consumption. By withholding findings of a research on an issue that negatively affected the community, this researcher acted unethically because he failed to recognize the significance of his research to the well being of the community. So by keeping the findings secret his research ceased to have any impact in solving this problem. In other words, he failed to appropriately use his knowledge to instigate good reforms in the community.

(ii)   Honesty and integrity

Based on this principle a researcher will be considered to have behaved ethically if he reports the finding of a research honestly without holding back any information and conduct a research in a way that inspire trust and confidence. This researcher failed to meet any of these requirements.  By keeping the finding of the research secret on an issue that negatively affected the residents of the dorm campus community, he failed to be honest and his research lacked the required integrity- for a research to command integrity, reporting of the findings should not be determined by the kind of results one gets, because there is no need of doing a research only to keep results to yourself.  Therefore based on this ethical principle the researcher behaved in an unacceptable manner because for not making his findings known, he was not being honest to the public about his research. This behavior also compromised the integrity of the research because the decision of whether to publish or not to publish seems to have been driven by the outcome of the results which he thought will cause a furor in the community. This leaves one with a question, what if through his research he found out that only a small percentage violated restrictions on alcohol consumption, will he have made the results public? This to my opinion is affirmative.  Therefore this researcher raises questions of integrity and honesty and his behavior can be considered unethical.

Research case 2

This is about researcher who circulated questionnaires to students as part of their university registration packet. The students were not told that they must complete the forms but the researcher hoped that they will believe they must fill the forms hence ensuring a higher completion. When we analyze this case on the basis of standard principle ethics in research, the following issues stand out:

(i) Voluntary participation

This requires that a researcher should not force people into participation in a research. This researcher seems not to have acknowledged this to some extent. The students were just given research questionnaires which he expected that they must fill.  The researcher gave them no option of allowing them either to participate or not to participate in the research that he was carrying out. The students were given research questionnaires to fill as part of their university registration packet unaware of the intended research. Therefore on basis of violation of this principle we can say that the researcher acted in an acceptable manner because he lured the students into involuntarily participating in a research that they were not even aware of.

(ii) Informed consent

This requires that the participants in any give research to be fully informed about the procedure and risks involved in any given research. But in this case, the researcher just gave out questionnaires to students as part of their university registration packet without even briefing them about the research he intended to carry out and the procedures involved so that he gets their full consent as participants.  This research seems to have fallen short of this principle because the student seems not to have volunteered as participants in this research neither were they given any information by the researcher so that they make informed decisions about participating in the research. Without seeking their consent the researcher made the students to take part in a research they were not aware because the students thought it was part of the university registration packet. Therefore on the basis of this principle we can consider the behavior of this researcher as unethical or unacceptable.

(iii) Deception

This principle requires that a researcher should not mislead his respondents or subjects into participating in a research. The researcher seems to have misled the students into participating in his research by distributing research questionnaires as part of the registration packet. By doing so he hoped that many students will participate in the exercise and ensure high completion rate of the questionnaires. The students were expected to give information by filling the research questionnaires which they were made to believe was part of the university registration packet. Therefore we can say that the researcher conducted research procedures in a way that is not acceptable or unethical because he lured his respondents into giving information without being aware that it was meant for a research.

(iv) Honesty and integrity

This principle requires a researcher to observe honesty in all scientific communications and not to deceive colleagues, respondents or public. He should honestly report data, results, methods and publication of findings. The research should be carried out in a way that inspires confidence and integrity. This research seems to have gone against these requirements. The researcher failed to honestly communicate the procedures of his research to his respondents. Therefore lack of honesty and openness between the researcher and his respondents compromised integrity of the research. He disguised the procedures of the study as part of university registration packet. Therefore his behavior can be considered unethical because the researcher acted in a dishonest manner that compromised the integrity of the research.  


Research is a very sensitive issue, especially human researches where human beings are subjects because any mistake will translate into devastating outcome. This requires that all researchers should observe the standard principles of ethics when making any decisions in a research or when carrying out their research procedures. This will ensure that their research procedure and decisions are ethical or acceptable.

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