Ethical Standards in Scientific Research

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 10
Words: 2765
Reading time:
10 min
Study level: PhD

Introduction

Any research needs to be conducted with respect to certain criteria that are acceptable within the discipline in which the study is executed. Researchers have to consider ethical issues in their study designs. In a research design, ethics implies compliance with acceptable research standards. Moral principles are taken care of by performing research in a considerate, candid, and compassionate manner that upholds the values of cooperation, service, and understanding. However, in practice, some scientists may presume that some of these concerns of ethical practices are not important while conducting their research. For instance, Racker (2009) discusses a student who fabricated various research books in 1989 while compiling a lab report without conducting any experiment. The student departed from the ethics of scientific research since the main aim of any experiment is to establish dependence between variables in a bid to expand a given body of knowledge. Indeed, it is unethical to report on nonexistent results of an experiment. The situation amounts to the creation of fabricated and unreliable knowledge. In an effort to guide the process of conducting scientific research, this paper discusses various ethical issues in scientific research. Using scholarly articles, it first conducts a literature review of ethics in scientific research before providing an in-depth discussion of ethical matters in research. In the last section, appropriate recommendations are offered as a guide for ensuring that scientific studies are done in an ethical way.

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Literature Review

Research ethics relates to the deployment of ethical principles to different research topics. Ethical principles apply in animal and human experimentation among other types of research. The goal is to mitigate academic scandals or misconducts (Shaw, Petchey, Chapman & Abbott, 2009). Academic misconducts include engaging in fraud, data manipulation, and plagiarism among other issues that are not acceptable in the process of gathering data and its presentation, either orally or in writing (Thomas, & de Bruin, 2015). Scientific research is guided by the principle of trust. Researchers and their audiences trust people who conduct studies, which they utilize in informing further researches. This claim reveals how people trust and believe that any research presents an accurate attempt to offer explanations to the real world in more precise ways and without or with an insignificant bias. However, Shaw et al. (2009) assert such trust only exists if researchers devote their efforts to ensuring compliance with ethical conduct while executing their researches.

According to Amos (2014), literature on scientific research appreciates the importance of following ethical guidelines in research. For instance, in the discipline of sociology, researchers have an obligation to seek permission together with the interest of all research participants. Indeed, no research should misuse, misrepresent, or modify data in a bid to arrive at some pre-determined conclusions. Moral responsibility, especially towards the recruited research sample, should be upheld to ensure that research acquires accurate information. For instance, when a research sample has a reason to doubt the degree of confidentiality in the manner in which the researcher may handle the provided information, the participating scholars may be reluctant to provide the required information or even provide falsified information in an attempt to secure some confidentiality of their information. Researchers have an obligation of protecting the privacy of all participants together with their sensitive information. This privacy can be enhanced by maintaining the anonymity of research participants unless some other reasons permit. For instance, terrorism can override such an effort to guarantee privacy.

In medical practice, the concept of principlism guides ethical issues. However, Shaw et al. (2009) criticize this approach by claiming that it is highly de-contextualized. Hence, different research disciplines have different ethical foundations. Indeed, every research community has its morals. In anthropology, research ethical matters seek to protect the researched people while at the same time facilitating ardent protection of the researcher from an incident that can be unsafe and/or one that can make him or her uncomfortable.

Informed consent is particularly an important aspect of ethical research (Nunan & Yenicioglu, 2013). In ethnographic research, anthropologists are required to sign different consent forms, which detail the type and nature of research (Skovdal & Abebe, 2012). All the respondents are guaranteed anonymity by using pseudonyms as a way of denoting themselves. However, such formal measures do not sufficiently warrant ethical scientific research. In fact, research should not necessarily be anchored on de-contextualized and dominant approaches to the analysis of research ethics. Rather, negotiations for reflexively via mechanisms such as dialogue with various participants are necessary for ensuring a global bridging of the understanding of research ethics.

Many institutions recognize the importance of informed consent in research (Nunan & Yenicioglu, 2013; Schrems, 2014). For example, in Canada, various established research bodies are charged with the duty of authorizing different study developments. Universities in Canada utilize the Tri-Council Policy in approving different researches. The council approves funds for conducting research upon a careful analysis of the research design to ensure compliance with various regulations, including ethics policies. For instance, it is important as an ethical requirement for a researcher not to harm or interfere with the normal life of an organization or people while executing research.

Originality in research is an incredibly important ethical requirement. Consequently, it is important for any research to avoid plagiarism. According to Thomas and de Bruin (2015), research is unethical if it copies or paraphrases materials from other studies without giving the appropriate credit. Racker (2009) describes a researcher who fabricated curriculum vitae by copying grants that belonged to his colleagues and treating them as his own. He then proceeded to produce a publication that contained data that had been gathered by other people. Additionally, he also created fictitious collaborators who acted as the co-authors of his publication. While this situation evidences a real case scenario of plagiarism in research practice, researchers such as the one that Racker (2009) describes may not even become ethical since there is a clear intent of lack of the need to adopt ethics in research.

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It is not satisfactory to deploy isolated cases of academic fraud to generalize ethical approaches in a given profession. In 1993, the US Bureau of research reliability) reported, “1991–1992 caseloads to include 29 institutional inquiries, 21 institutional investigations, and 7 ORI inquiries or investigations” (Racker, 2009, p.92). These cases involved falsification, plagiarism, and fabrication among other academic research misconducts. Investigation of these cases led to the sanctioning of the implicated parties who included technicians and professors. This situation suggests that academic misdemeanors that amount to unethical behaviors are not straightforward subjects. They implicate people from all academic profiling.

Investigating cases that involve academic fraud proves problematic due to the overriding confusion on what exactly amounts to unethical practices. In the discipline of health, regulations, and business, many institutions of research have visibly defined and stipulated moral standards (Cho & Shin, 2014). Some cases in these disciplines may test the actual limits of applying ethical standards. In many cases, the checks are just appropriate to mitigate the risks of academic fraud such as fabrication and plagiarism. For example, rules and regulations on patenting of products and new discoveries ensure that no other person can legitimately claim a discovery of a given product once it is patented.

In scientific research, most jurisdictions lack clear rules to enhance compliance with ethics. Shaw et al. (2009) add that many individual institutions have been incredibly struggling to come up with rules o adjudicate ethical misconducts in scientific research. In the research, academic misconducts refer typically to plagiarism, falsification, and breach of confidentiality, and fabrication of data. Reference to ethical misconducts in the context of the four aspects introduces challenges in terms of clarity understanding ethics in any scientific research. This situation is perhaps the case upon noting that a ‘questionable behavior’ is any undesired conduct in a scientific study. The confusion arises due to the failure to set out the line of obligations in ethical practices and what a ‘questionable behavior’ precisely implies.

The contribution of mentors in ensuring ethical practices in scientific researches amplifies the degree of confusion on what amounts to ethical deeds in research. Scientists mainly learn from their individual mentors. Through mentoring, they learn behaviors in research methods and the acceptable codes of conduct. Skovdal and Abebe (2012) assert that through mentoring, upcoming scientists acquire knowledge on scientific mechanisms for seeking research project funds, donations, appropriate information, and procedures for preparing academic papers. They also acquire information and appropriate procedures for information and data sharing from fellow practitioners. However, where mentors do not understand all these mechanics, it is most likely that their students will inherit confusion on unethical practices in scientific studies. In education settings, all parties, including mentors need to adopt ethical perspectives in research processes. According to Nunan and Yenicioglu (2013), these ideas include avoiding falsification of data, fabrication, plagiarism, observing confidentiality and privacy of data, securing informed consent before collecting data from individuals, and avoiding negligence while handling information.

Discussion

The Components of an Ethical Qualitative and Quantitative Research

All researchers have a duty to comply with the acceptable ethical guidelines in a given discipline of study. This duty applies, irrespective of the nature and type of research. For instance, various scholars prescribe certain characteristics that qualitative or quantitative research must meet for results and recommendations to arrive at an effective resolution of the stated problem under research. For this reason, the methodology that is deployed in the research needs to have some specific characteristics, which include reliability, steadfastness, the use of meticulous methods, and authentication (Jordan & Gray, 2014). Other characteristics include soundness, lucidity, and rationality in reporting (Mijaljica, 2014). However, in deriving the criteria for rigorous research, a common ground is normally negotiated since the province of quantitative research is not unified. Many scholars largely contend that qualitative research needs to be principled, significant, and undoubtedly and comprehensibly expressed. It should adopt suitable and thorough techniques. Ethics in research is taken care of by conducting research in a respectful manner. Any researcher should be sincere and humane.

From the above necessities of ethical research, validity is a striking trait for any scientific research that respects the principles of ethics. Validity can be internal and external. It is defined as the most excellent rough calculation of the correctness of research suggestions. External validity implies the degree of the truthiness of various claims that are raised in the research and the existing variables. On the other hand, external validity implies the degree to which the findings of any research can be applied to general contexts. The method that is utilized in qualitative research needs to aid researchers to attain optimal levels of validity of their research for their work to add significant knowledge to the body of knowledge they seek to amplify. Experimental and quantitative researches also need to possess both internal and external legitimacy. To achieve this goal, no manipulations of data should be allowed in an attempt to suit particular predetermined outcomes.

Data Safety Precautions

While collecting data, researchers interact directly with samples or even populations. The information that is being sought may be confidential or unsafe when exposed to the public domain. Thus, any negligence and mistakes in handling the data may lead to damages on the part of people who take part in the research. Negligence implies malicious or mishandling of data in a manner that causes damage, which the researcher could have overseen and/or taken appropriate action to mitigate. It may also involve making avoidable mistakes in the process of collecting data, it’s handling, and processing. For example, it is inappropriate and negligent to investigate the effects of school leadership on students’ performance by introducing unqualified professionals to lead a school for two years while knowing very well that parents and other stakeholders will suffer in an exceedingly negative way from poor leadership. While it is necessary to introduce controlled groups in research, such groups should not provide irreversible damages.

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Scientific research involves setting independent variables and then investigating their effects on dependent variables. In an attempt to explain a certain phenomenon in the real world through variables, the outcomes should be only contributed by the interaction of the variables under certain controls. The researcher should remain neutral in the interaction process. This claim means that it is unethical to engage in data manipulations to yield certain results. To this extent, as Racker (2009) confirms, the student who added gel “to produce band where he wished those band to be and lied to his colleagues about his action” (p.92) evidences two unethical crimes in scientific research. Firstly, he fabricated research outcomes by influencing the interaction of variables, which in the actual sense, should have produced the bands. On the second count, he lied to colleagues on the outcomes of the research since he was not honest in his contributions since he influenced the process of band formation by predetermining their location.

In the research, an intensive interview is considered the main way of generating primary data. To this extent, Amos (2014) analyzed and interpreted various interview transcripts in various ways in the endeavor to identify the richness of their data. In this perspective, the general method of research is clear. Indeed, such an explanation is vital for any ethical research since, for quality research methodology, the examiner will utilize the normal techniques that are postulated in the discussion and fieldwork content to guarantee the integrity of interviewees to evade influencing their (interviewees) findings. The first milestone of the study involved selecting five variables, which were coded for every interviewee.

Each transcript was then critically examined to come up with reasons why the participants never deployed corporate social responsibility considerations in arriving at their purchasing decisions. In an attempt to generalize the results, the researchers read their transcripts. This step was essential in identifying various similar themes. This observation is a precise and clear specification of the overall research methodology designs. This process makes the methodology largely consistent with the requirements of effective and ethical qualitative research. These requirements include descriptiveness, luminosity, procedural correspondence, investigative assiduousness, academic appropriateness, and heuristic importance. Identifying themes that are common in the results is an ethical scientific research process since superior qualitative research has to demonstrate neutrality, consistency, and applicability of its inferences. In this context, the researcher plays the role of setting the variables and looking for the necessary catalysts for the interaction process of variables to begin and finally report the findings. An ethical researcher should never play the role of a catalyst.

Recommendations

The methodology that is adopted in scientific research plays an incredible role in both time and space to describe the procedure of data collection and its subsequent analysis. This role is particularly significant in the endeavor to raise the levels of dependability and reliability of the analysis process together with the recommendations and conclusions of the research. Recommendations and conclusions are only appropriate when dealing with research problems if the research process is conducted in an honest and trustful manner. Therefore, scientific researchers should develop acceptable codes of conduct within the discipline to ensure that their studies contribute positively to dealing with problems that are experienced in the real world. Such codes of conduct should be guided by the principle of honesty in data collection, handling, and processing to yield reliable and dependable information.

Scientific researchers need to mitigate problems of data falsification, fabrication, and manipulation. They should also avoid a breach of copyright. Falsification can be addressed by ensuring that the reported research conclusions are only attributable to the interaction of variables without the participation of the researchers in influencing the interaction process. A convention is recommended to guide scientific research processes. Since mentors play essential roles in teaching their students requisite research methodologies and practices that are acceptable within a given discipline, training in scientific ethics is necessary. A recommended way of achieving this goal is the establishment of discussion forums for scientific researchers in which they can exchange information on ethical conventions, articulate responsibilities, and/or define a necessary framework for developing ethical decisions in the research process.

Conclusion

Ethics defines what is right or erroneous to do. Scientific research refers to how researchers in the discipline should conduct any research that seeks to reveal a particular phenomenon. The paper holds that it is unethical to engage in the falsification of ideas, data fabrication, manipulation, and plagiarism. Thus, researchers should aim at remaining original and sticking to procedures that have been established for researchers to uphold. Such procedures and guidelines ensure that researchers and students do not control the outcomes of an experiment whenever they do research, whether qualitative or quantitative.

Reference

Amos, K. (2014). The ethics of scholarly publishing: exploring differences in plagiarism and duplicate publication across nations. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 102(2), 87-91.

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Cho, K., & Shin, G. (2014). Operational effectiveness of blended e-learning program for nursing research ethics. Nursing Ethics, 21(4), 484-495.

Jordan, S., & Gray, P. (2014). Reporting Ethics Committee Approval in Public Administration Research. Science & Engineering Ethics, 20(1), 77-97.

Mijaljica, G. (2014). Medical Ethics, Bioethics and Research Ethics Education Perspectives in South East Europe in Graduate Medical Education. Science & Engineering Ethics, 20(1), 237-247.

Nunan, D., & Yenicioglu, B. (2013). Informed, uninformed and participative consent in social media research. International Journal of Market Research, 55(6), 791-808.

Racker, E. (2009). A View of Misconduct in Science. Nature, 3(39), 91–93.

Schrems, M. (2014). Informed consent, vulnerability and the risks of group-specific attribution. Nursing Ethics, 21(7), 829-843.

Shaw, E., Petchey, R., Chapman, J., & Abbott, S. (2009). A double-edged sword? Health research and research governance in UK primary care. Social Science and Medicine, 6(8), 912-918.

Skovdal, M., & 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.

Thomas, A., & de Bruin, G. (2015). Plagiarism in South African management journals. South African Journal of Science, 111(1/2), 1-3.