Defined as “…norms for conduct that distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour” (Resnik, 2013) ethics are established within societies to determine and categorise particular behaviours, practices and beliefs as either ethical, or unethical.
When conducting research ethics are a key factor of the practice. Gathering data and information that is based on sensitive or controversial topics can be difficult to conduct ethically, although there is no excuse for not being able to put into practice a series of steps to ensure the research conducted is ethical and conducted for the right reasons.
Researchers are encouraged to follow these principles when conducting research:
- Not to involve people in research without their knowledge or consent
- Avoid coercion
- Refrain from lying about the nature of research
- Not violate the subjects self-respect
- Invade privacy
- Treat people unfairly or expose the subject to mental or physical stress.
The aforementioned steps are simple to follow and are highly important as they ensure the safety, protection, comfort and privacy of the participants.
Of course, the more extensive the research, the more precautions need to be taken in order that the research is being conducted ethically. The importance of ethics could be portrayed through the example of questioning the ethical nature of testing harmful skincare products on animals or attempting to eradicate a species of animals or plants justifying the genocide as ‘research.’
Within Australia researchers are required to abide by the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research which aims to “…guide institutions and researchers in responsible research practices and promotes research integrity” (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2014).
Historically there are a range of examples whereby research has conducted with a direct and deliberate dismissal of ethics. A prime example of this would be the American practice of conducting research of the effects of particular drugs outside the United States. With an approximated amount of 60 000 clinical drug trials that have been conducted outside the United States since 2000 the ethical nature of these testings have been questioned as “often the subjects taking part have no idea what they are participating in, are poorly paid, and simply sign their consent with an “X” or by leaving a fingerprint” (Dickinson, 2012).
A further example of unethical research is Etomological Warfare whereby insects, such as mosquitoes and fleas, are released containing diseases such as Malaria during times of war as a combat tactic. Although the practice in itself can be deemed unethical, the concept was tested and called ‘Operation Big Buzz’ in Georgia, “…when 1 million uninfected mosquitoes were released and studied to gauge dispersal patterns” (Dickinson, 2012). One of the main unethical factors in this research is the fact that those participating were not aware of the research that was being conducted, as well as the harmful nature of what the insects released were carrying with them.
Until next time;
Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research – Summary | National Health and Medical Research Council (2014). Available at: https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/research/responsible-conduct-research/summary-australian-code-responsible-conduct-research (Accessed: 29 March 2015)
Resnik, D 2013, What is ethics research & why is it important?, National Institute of and Environmental Health Sciences, viewed 29 March 2015, http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/resources/bioethics/whatis/