The Belmont Report: Research Methods and Designs

Research designs and methods used to conduct surveys have been strictly censured in the past decade. Institutional review board resolutions are now an enhanced role with regard to research activities done by policy research and academic institutions. There are new guidelines introduced by Federal agencies that compel academic, professional and non academic institutions to take part in crafting ethical procedures and monitor the research integrity of their associates. A number of professional bodies for example the American Statistical Associations, American Sociological Association have already restructured their codes of ethics to incorporate extra rules research activities (Kennedy, 2001, p.1).

The Professional Code of Conduct in Research Activities

The issue related to the safeguarding of human subjects emerged in the 1970s as a result of the Tuskegee Experiment. The National Research Act [1974] led to the establishment of the commission that generated the Belmont Report in 1978. This report outlined the ethical frameworks that offered protections for human subjects used in research activities. The Project Camelot, Tea Room Trade and Milgram Experiment are few examples of research activities that made professional organizations raise a red flag about the adverse effects of research activities on human subjects. Moreover, a number of codes of ethics outline practice guidelines. For instance the NNCP and AAPOR codes focus greatly on reporting guidelines. Other codes regulate a number of professional behavior issues such as the relationships between the employers and employees, integrity in advertising, conflict of interest and treatment of students (Kennedy, 2001, p.2). Majority of researchers are usually members of numerous professional organizations such as American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). However, some surveys done by a number of professional research bodies do not meet the research thresholds set by the Belmont Report. For instance surveys done by AAROR affiliates do not meet the minimum rules outlined in the Belmont Report since their definition of research is narrow. Their research activities only aim at producing novel scientific knowledge for example reports in peer-reviewed presentations and journals at scientific seminars (Kennedy, 2001, p.3).

The Belmont Report

The Belmont Report outlines principles that must be observed when conducting surveys with human subjects. For example, human subjects should be respected and provided with a complete informed consent before they decide to take part in the study. The Belmont Report human subjects used in the study must also be treated as independent agents. In practical terms, informed consent ensures that volunteers are accorded sufficient information about any risks they are likely to face if they willingly opt to take part in the study. Thus, informed consent entails disclosure of information on the research designs that ensure the volunteer clearly understands the risks involved and a chance to make an informed decision (Stanton, 2010, p.5). The principle of Beneficence requires that researchers prioritize the safety of the subjects use research designs that will optimize benefits relative to the hazards of the research. The principle of Justice demands that human subjects who benefit from the study must also be ready to accept the negative outcomes of the research (Kennedy, 2001, p.3).

A new concern has emerged recently with respect to the participation of the community in research. The issue revolves around the nature of standards used to protect communities involved in research activities in North America. A number of scholars question whether extra measures are adopted-similar to those provided to individual research- to safeguard communities involved in research. Whereas risks attributed to individuals participating in research are well known, those related to communities are seldom addressed (Weijer, 1999, p.501).


Kennedy, JM. (2001). Ethics Codes and Survey Researchers. Web.

Stanton, JM. (2010). Virtual Worlds, the IRB and a User’s Bill of Rights. Journal of Virtual Worlds. 3, 1-15.

Weijer, C. (1999). Protecting Communities in Research: Philosophical and Pragmatic Challenges. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics. 8, 501-513.