The term “ethics” derives from the Greek word “ethos” which means character. To engage with the ethical dimension of your research requires asking yourself several important questions:
-What moral principles guide your research?
-How do ethical issues enter into your selection of a research problem?
-How do ethical issues affect how you conduct your research—the design of your study, your sampling procedure, etc.?
-What responsibility do you have toward your research subjects? For example, do you have their informed consent to participate in your project?
-What ethical issues/dilemmas might come into play in deciding what research findings you publish?
-Will your research directly benefit those who participated in the study?
The major principles associated with ethical conduct are (Litchman, 2011):
1- Do No Harm:
- It is the cornerstone of ethical conduct
- There should be a reasonable expectation by those participating in a research study that they will not be involved in any situation in which they might be harmed.
- Often applied to studies involving drugs or a treatment that might be harmful to participants
- The 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, in which students played the role of guards and prisoners, is one example. When it was found that the guards became increasingly sadistic, the study was terminated.
- Recommendation: It is best to safeguard against doing anything that will harm the participants in your study. If you begin a study and you find that some of your participants seem to have adverse reactions, it is best to discontinue the study, even if it means foregoing your research plan.
2- Privacy and Anonymity:
- Any individual participating in a research study has a reasonable expectation that privacy will be guaranteed. Consequently, no identifying information about the individual should be revealed in written or other communication. Further, any group or organization participating in a research study has a reasonable expectation that its identity will not be revealed.
- Recommendation: Remove identifying information from your records. Seek permission from the participants if you wish to make public information that might reveal who they are or who the organization is. Use caution in publishing long verbatim quotes, especially if they are damaging to the organization or people in it. Often, these quotes can be located on the Internet and traced to the speaker or author.
- Any individual participating in a research study has a reasonable expectation that information provided to the researcher will be treated in a confidential manner. Consequently, the participant is entitled to expect that such information will not be given to anyone else.
- Recommendation: It is our responsibility to keep the information you learn confidential. If you sense that an individual is in an emergency situation, you might decide that you can waive your promise for the good of the individual or of others. You need to be much more sensitive to information that you obtain from minors and others who might be in a vulnerable position.
4- Informed Consent:
- Individuals participating in a research study have a reasonable expectation that they will be informed of the nature of the study and may choose whether or not to participate. They also have a reasonable expectation that they will not be coerced into participation.
- Recommendation: Our responsibility is to make sure that participants are informed, to the extent possible, about the nature of your study. Even though it is not always possible to describe the direction your study might take, it is your responsibility to do the best you can to provide complete information. If participants decide to withdraw from the study, they should not feel penalized for so doing. You need to be aware of special problems when you study people online. For example, one concern might be vulnerability of group participants. Another is the level of intrusiveness of the researcher.
5- Rapport and Friendship:
- Once participants agree to be part of a study, the researcher develops rapport in order to get them to disclose information.
- Recommendation: Researchers should make sure that they provide an environment that is trustworthy. At the same time, they need to be sensitive to the power that they hold over participants. Researchers need to avoid setting up a situation in which participants think they are friends with the researcher.
- Individuals participating in a research study have a reasonable expectation that the conduct of the researcher will not be excessively intrusive. Intrusiveness can mean intruding on their time, intruding on their space, and intruding on their personal lives. As you design a research study, you ought to be able to make a reasonable estimate of the amount of time participation will take.
- Recommendation: Experience and caution are the watchwords. You might find it difficult to shift roles to neutral researcher, especially if your field is counseling or a related helping profession.
7- Inappropriate Behavior:
- Individuals participating in a research study have a reasonable expectation that the researcher will not engage in conduct of a personal or sexual nature.
- Here, researchers might find themselves getting too close to the participants and blurring boundaries between themselves and others. We probably all know what we mean by inappropriate behavior. We know it should be avoided
- Recommendation: If you think you are getting too close to those you are studying, you probably are. Back off and remember that you are a researcher and bound by your code of conduct to treat those you study with respect.
8- Data Interpretation:
- A researcher is expected to analyze data in a manner that avoids misstatements, misinterpretations, or fraudulent analysis. The other principles discussed involve your interaction with individuals in your study. This principle represents something different. It guides you to use your data to fairly represent what you see and hear. Of course, your own lens will influence you.
- Recommendation: You have a responsibility to interpret your data and present evidence so that others can decide to what extent your interpretation is believable.
9- Data Ownership and Rewards:
- In general, the researcher owns the work generated. Some researchers choose to archive data and make them available through databanks. Questions have been raised as to who actually owns such data. Some have questioned whether the participants should share in the financial rewards of publishing. Several ethnographers have shared a portion of their royalties with participants.
- Recommendation: In fact, most researchers do not benefit financially from their writing. It is rare that your work will turn into a bestseller or even be published outside your university. But, if you have a winner on hand, you might think about sharing some of the financial benefits with others.