Course:KIN570/TOPICS/Ethics

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Research Methods
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KIN 570
Section: 001
Instructor: Dr Nicola Hodges
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ETHICS IN RESEARCH

Ethics in research are important because they define limitations that the researcher has as well as aid to protect the researcher from questionable results or any issues raised by colleagues and/or human subjects. Further, ethics regarding human subjects will protect both the researcher and the participant from any harm that could be caused by the research and will ensure that subjects can make informed decisions regarding their participation in your study. Essentially, ethics are norms for conduct that researchers follow to protect their integrity and reputation and ensure respectful and responsible treatment of participants.

Research ethics can take on two forms:

  1. Ethics regarding data collection and the writing process of research. This can include things such as authorship, publication and fabrication of data, to name a few.
  2. Ethics regarding human subjects. These are parameters set by institutional research boards which ensure that all subjects are treated fairly, are not subjected to undue harm, are given the right to make informed decisions regarding research, and allowing them to exercise the option of participation withdrawal at any point during the research process.

The History of Research Ethics

Nuremberg Code

Research ethics began as a result of criminal proceedings that were opened by American military against 23 German Physicians who willingly participated in German war crimes and crimes against humanity during World War II. In 1948, during these criminal proceedings, the Nuremberg Code was developed, which is very simple in comparison to today's standards. It addresses ten principles that seem to be common sense to researchers today. What follows is a brief example of some of the points the Nuremberg code addresses:

  1. Voluntary consent of participants is essential.
  2. The research must be conducted for the good of society
  3. Unnecessary physical and or mental harm must be avoided at all costs.
  4. Only those who have scientific qualifications should be conducting the research

Declaration of Helsinki

In 1964, the Declaration of Helsinki was created by the World Medical Association. This document is a set of guidelines for biomedical researchers to follow when engaging in research that involves human subjects. There are 19 outlined principles for medical researchers to follow as well as research principles that can be used in combination with medical care.

National Research Act

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study is one of the most widely used examples of unethical research involving human subjects and received a lot of negative publicity. It began in 1932 and continued until 1972, ending with only 14 of 399 subjects alive and many wives and children had gotten the disease. In brief, subjects were never told they had syphilis and were simply lead to believe they had "bad blood". They were given free meals, free medical care and burial insurance. In 1942, penicillin became the widely known drug for treatment of syphilis but participants were not given information regarding this drug, nor were they treated with the drug that would likely cure the disease. As a result, the majority of the participants died of syphilis or of causes related to the disease.

As a result of such an unethical study, the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioural research was born - a group who would develop the Belmont Report in 1974. This document includes basic ethical principles that researchers in biomedical and behavioural fields were expected to follow.

The Belmont Report includes the following three principles:

Principle Description
Justice All participants must be selected fairly. Each participant must have an equal opportunity of experiencing the benefits of research and an equal risk of harm.
Benefice The researcher should include the health and well-being of participants as a primary goal of the research. The risk of harm to the participants should not outweigh the benefit of the findings to the public.
Respect for Persons All participants should receive the necessary information that allows them to make an informed decision regarding their participation in the research. They should all be treated with care and caution and should not be denied their rights.

Tri Council Policy Statement 2

Currently, researchers follow the Tri Council Policy Statement 2, which was most recently revised in 2010. This is a national document that included 13 chapters on ethical research practices. Some of these chapters include, bur are not limited to, :

  1. The Consent Process
  2. Privacy & Confidentiality
  3. Fairness & Equity
  4. Clinical Trials

The document also addresses the three principles previously outlined in the Belmont Report.


Ethics in Data Collection & The Writing Process

Often overlooked, there are ethics surrounding the procedures data collection, data analysis, written document, publication and authorship in research. Unethical practices in the aforementioned procedures are hard to catch but can result in the detriment of one's integrity and future in research.In the following sections, seven principles (some combined) of research ethics regarding the process and writing/publication of research are addressed.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism occurs when a researcher uses the words, figures, graphs, data or ideas of someone else without proper citation and or permission of those whom the idea, figures or text belongs to. Plagiarism can occur very easily; in the table that follows, three examples of plagiarism are given:

Topic of Plagiarism Description
Inadvertent Involvement
  • Researchers can be involved in plagiarism without knowing so. This usually occurs when they are a coauthor of a paper and have not reviewed the finished product before it is submitted for publication.
  • If plagiarism in the paper is caught, even if the researcher does not know it was used, they are of equally punishable for the offence
Falsification of Cited Literature
  • This can occur when the researcher rewords or bends the work of another researcher in order to fit the goals of their research or hypotheses
  • A researcher must cite anything that he or she "borrows" from another researcher
  • When reading something that is cited in a study but belongs to another researcher, you should leave the secondary source and consult the primary source the citation came from. This allows you to understand the context the statement is used in and will ensure that the statement has not been reworded to fit the goals of the researcher who previously cited it.
Circulation of Mauscripts
  • If borrowing anything from a manuscript that has been released for public consumption, you should always cite the original source that it came from.

There are a couple ways to avoid the use of plagiarism in your written documents. First, use originality. Come up with your own ideas or add to the ideas of others, but make sure to give credit where it is due. Second, everyone feels pressured to publish but do not allow it to let you become lazy about your research - make sure you give credit, you verify your sources and you ensure your ideas are original. Third, as a rule of thumb, verify everything (especially if you are a coauthor).

Faulty Data

Data can be faulty in three ways:

  1. It can be gathered incorrectly
  2. It can be falsified
  3. It can be Fabricated
Principle How it Can be Faulty Description
Faulty Data Gathering
  1. Allowing those not meeting study criteria to continue participation
  2. Malfunctioning Equipment
  3. Bribing Participants
  1. This is a faulty practice because those who do not meet the criteria of your study will skew your data and give you unreliable results. If someone does not meet the criteria, remove them for your study and recruit more participants who doe meet the criteria. Do not become lazy in your data collection. You want your study to remain replicable.
  2. If your equipment malfunctions - if it is calabrated wrong or not working properly - it will give you incorrect measurements and result in faulty data.
  3. Researchers should not recruit participants from classes they teach or they TA as participants may feel obligated to participated as a person who has a higher power than them is asking them to do so. Further, researchers should not contact those in a higher power of participants to help them recruit (ex. a coach asking his/her athletes to participate) because again, they may feel they do not have a choice in participation.
Fabricating Data
  1. Recruitment of more participants to reach significance
  1. You should not be recruiting more participants to reach significance because it gives you untrue results. If a researcher does not reach significance it may still be important research in the sense that it could "disprove" or raise questions regarding pervious research. It may add to the field and should be explained rather than changed.
Falsification of Data
  1. Data Trimming
  1. Data should not be trimmed or hidden in any way. All data helps a researcher tell his or her story and contributes to the project in a meaningful way. Outliers may be extreme cases but rather than being removed, they should be explained.

Data Storage & Retention

As a researcher, it is your responsibility to protect the privacy and confidentiality of your participants. Therefore, you should remove any identifying data from surveys/questionnaires as soon as possible and store the documents in a separate place. This will make it hard for anyone to match data to a respondent, thus protecting the privacy of the participant.

Researchers are required to keep all their data for three years after the completion of the study. This protects the researcher in that if any questions or suspicions were to arise regarding the results of the study, the researcher could reexamine his or her data. It can also serve as "proof" should any suspicion arise. Further, data should be stored in its original form. Researchers should not make any marks or changes to the responses of participants on the surveys as this could cause suspicion should any questions arise needing data to be reexamined or looked over.

A way to ensure that all data remains confidential is to password protect any files. In programs such as Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel, under the review tab, it is possible to password protect documents. However, passwords should be stored in a place they can not be traced back to the file as if it is lost, it cannot be retrieved again. If the password is forgotten, the researcher cannot enter his or her documents and must start over. However, because of the added level of protection, it is worth the consideration of use.

Authorship & Publication

The first author of research studies generally goes to the person who developed the idea. The exception to this is the case of a masters thesis or doctoral dissertation, in which case, the student is listed as first author. Coauthors of the paper (ex. 2nd and 3rd author) are listed in order of the contributions they make. In order to avoid conflict surrounding authorship, the requirements should be made at the outset, along with second and third author (etc.). This can be revisited upon completion of the project if it needs to be. However, not everyone should be an author on a paper. If someone simply assists in data collection it does not warrant authorship. Writing and or data analysis contributions must be made in order to obtain authorship on a paper.

When publishing research, journals put articles through a review process as a quality control tool that helps to keep research with a lack of importance or with questionable findings from reaching the public. If an arictle is rejected from two journals, it should be taken as a sign that the project needs further improvements. The researcher should take this as an opportunity to consider reviews and comments and make changes to the document. This will result in a stronger product that could be resubmitted and possibly published.

Research with Human Subjects

Research participants, animals and humans, have rights in the research process. This section will focus on human subjects and some of the strict ethical guidelines that must be followed when research includes human subjects.

Privacy & Confidentiality

All participants have a right for their information to remain private and confidential. The information that they give to the researchers, both personal and data, should only be viewed by the research team. Further, the participant should not be identified in any papers unless he or she consents to this. Emails should not be shared with other researchers looking to recruit participants, nor should names. It is the researchers responsibility to protect such information once it has been shared.

Using Deception

Some researchers, especially those in the field of psychology, use a method known as deception. In this method, the participant is not told the true purpose behind the study and is often led to believe that the researcher is studying something that has nothing to do with the actual research goals. This is because if the participants knew the true reason behind the research being conducted it would skew the data and results and the research would not work properly. Some things must be studied under deception so as to tap into the true meaning of the constructs being studied and to potentially avoid socially desirable responses that participants may give if they know the true meaning.

If using deception, it is the responsibility of the researcher to debrief all participants upon the completion of their participation in the study. At this point the true meaning behind the research must be shared. Further, it is the option of the participant to withdraw from the study if he or she no longer feels comfortable with participation.

Harm to Participants

In research, zero harm cannot be guaranteed. At best a researcher can guarantee minimal harm. It is not known how individuals will perceive certain things and the slightest thing to someone could cause another person a small bit of psychological or physical stress. Thus, this would result in some harm being caused, although it is not life threatening. Further, the cost of the research should not outweigh the benefits. In other words, the harm caused to participants should not be greater than the benefit of society when the research is made public.

Responses & Right to Withdrawal

Participants are not obligated to answer every question asked verbally or on a survey/questionnaire. If a question makes them feel uncomfortable it is their right to decline to answer and they cannot be punished because of this.

Further, if for some reason a participant wishes to withdraw from the study at any point prior to submission for publication, their data must be removed from the study. The participant can receive no punishment for withdrawal. For example, if they were given ten dollars to complete the study, they do not have to give the ten dollars back.

References