An intelligible analysis of research ethics and principles

An insight into the importance of ethical principles in research

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Introduction


The paramount purpose of this article is to the key ethics pertaining to research and to determine the main ethical issues which can be faced in the course of research. In this report, you will get to know about the importance of ethics in the research and the key ethical considerations that should be undertaken during research. Moreover, some examples of research ethics are also provided in the report to establish the imperativeness of research ethics in detail. The concluding section of this article is about the ways in which individuals can promote ethical behaviors in the course of carrying out research.

Ethics in research

The ethical norms and standards also serve the purpose of research across various domains and apply mainly to the individual who performs the research. The ethics in research also provide the guideline for the responsible conduct of individuals in the course of research. Further, in the subsequent sections, you will get extensive insights into the importance and principles of ethics in research in detail.

What are ethics?

You must have heard the term ethics many times that relate to the rules that differentiate between right and wrong. Ethics or the norms of conduct also help to distinguish between the acceptable as well as the non-acceptable behavior of an individual. The ethical norms and principles are so ubiquitous that the individual learns them at the home, school, or the social setting. Ethics can be defined as the acceptable behavior of an individual when exposed to different circumstances. Whenever an individual takes a decision, there is always the possibility of making a different decision or choice but the ethical values, beliefs, and actions of the individual guide their behavior. However, there is no strict definition of ethical behavior as each individual recognizes and interprets various ethical norms according to their own values and experiences. The construct as well as the comprehension of ethics is as subjective as the phenomena of happiness or motivation.

For instance, the two individuals may agree on the fact that the murder is wrong but there may be disagreement on the morality of abortion as each individual has a different understanding and beliefs regarding the morality of abortion. On similar lines, what may be discrimination for one individual may be normal behavior for the other. Thus, unlike laws and regulations, there are no strict obligations or rules that govern the ethical behavior or personal choices of an individual. However, different organizations and institutions have their standard of behavior that suits their particular aims. Ethical standards are generally set on the basis of values, rights, obligations, fairness, benefits to society, etc.

Importance of research

The world would have not come this far if robust research and development were not undertaken in the decades that have gone by. Research is a continuous and incessant phenomenon for the world and it keeps adding new dimensions to this globalized world.

Research refers to the process of undertaking systematic inquiry regarding some particular topic or area of concern by using scientific methods. The research process includes the collection, documentation and analysis of the information by applying various methodologies and approaches. The first thing that makes research important is that the research helps to inform action, gather evidence, and contribute to the development of knowledge in the field of study (Benton et al., 2020). The individuals also undertake research to gather deep knowledge on some topics and the information gained through research can also be checked against various other sources to maintain accuracy. The importance of research is discussed as follows-

  • Research is an important tool to build knowledge and facilitate effective learning.
  • Research helps to promote the credibility of information by differentiating between valuable as well as vague data.
  • Research helps to gather more facts which also serve as the basis for future research.
  • Research provides a larger frame of understanding as information gathering from different sources helps to gather different kinds of information.
  • Research provides the latest information and also helps to gather different viewpoints about some topic or issue.
  • Research is important to understand some particular issues or to raise awareness among the public about some research topic.
  • Research facilitates new innovations in technological infrastructure and enables the process of leveraging various technologies for the prosperity of the world.
  • Research is conducted by the business firms to evaluate the market situation, understand the needs of customers, gauge the levels of employee engagement and implement various competitive strategies (ZARAH, 2021).

Ethical issues in research

We all know that it is the duty of the researcher to conduct the research in the most ethical and responsible manner. Otherwise, careless research can lead to catastrophic implications for mankind and the world. Thus, while conducting the research-based study, a researcher also considers various ethical issues that may arise in regard to the human or the animal subjects. Historically, the medical doctors were in the privileged position to perform the research as per their own norms and setting with free access to the patient’s confidential information (Jenn, 2006). However, this had resulted in various unethical research practices due to the prevalence of unethical experiments on humans. Further, the main ethical issues which can be faced in the research study are discussed below.

Study design and ethics approval

Ineffective research design and lack of ethical approval are major issues that can be faced in carrying out research. Ineffective research design can lead to incomplete research and wrong selection of the research methodology which may also restrict the data collection and lead to inaccurate findings. If ethical approval is also not obtained in the research, then, it can cause lower trust of participants in the study and can also result in unethical research with a lack of consideration of harm to humans and animals. The good research needs to be well-defined, well-planned, and ethically approved but the research of lower standards with ignorance towards ethics can lead to misconduct. The researcher is required to develop the research protocol and perform the research according to the research protocol only.

Further, it must also be ensured that the precise role of all the team members is properly defined with the matters of authorship and publication. The researcher should define in advance the authorship of research. The researcher is also required to take approval from the ethics committee where the research proposal must contain details on the ethical issues which can be faced in doing the research.

Informed consent

Uninformed consent is another major ethical issue as the uninformed consent keeps the participants of the study in the dark regarding the different risks which can be faced in performing the research. The uninformed consent can also lead to a lack of communication about the voluntary participation of the participants in the study. For instance, Jolee Mohr was a 36-year-old woman who enrolled in the gene therapy trial for the treatment of arthritis. Mohr was expected to get benefits from this trial and it was not informed that the study is only aimed at testing the safety of treatment. Thus, Mohr was not informed of all the risks of treatment which is a major ethical issue (Nature Medicine, 2007). Thus, uninformed consent is another main ethical issue in doing the research as uninformed consent fails to protect the patient's right to autonomy.

The ICN code of nurses also states that the nurse practitioners can be called upon to witness that the informed consent is taken from patients or subjects of study (Fouka & Mantzorou, 2021). Further, the researcher is also required to disclose to the participants about the expected physical harm or discomfort which may arise from the research. Also, the research should have a "Non-Coercive Disclaimer" which states that the participation of individuals in research is voluntary and there is no penalty upon individuals to refuse to become part of the study.

Inappropriate Data analysis

Inappropriate data analysis is a major ethical issue that can be faced in research where the researcher may inappropriately analyse the available data which can further lead to misconduct, misinterpretation, and manipulation of data.

Redundant publication and plagiarism

Plagiarism or redundant publication can also occur in the research when two or more papers are published without cross-reference to the same hypothesis, information, etc. Plagiarism in research can also arise when the researcher makes unreferenced use of others' work or ideas (Jenn, 2006).

Importance of ethics in research

Research ethics have gained huge importance in recent times and the main aim behind research ethics is to ensure higher ethical standards in research (McKenna & Gray, 2018). Further, there are various reasons that support that it is a must for the researcher to comply with various ethical norms in research. To substantiate, one of the main reasons is that compliance with the ethical values also helps to promote the aim of the research study which includes knowledge, integrity, and avoidance of error. For instance, compliance with ethical norms can help to prevent falsification or manipulation of information which further can help to promote honesty and avoidance of errors. In addition to this, the ethics in the research are also important to ensure compliance with values central to collaborative work which include fairness, trust, accountability, mutual respect, etc. Moreover, the ethics in research are also important to protect the intellectual property interest of the individual. Not only this, but many researchers also want to get credit for their contribution which requires the researcher to comply with the ethical norms and ensure that no ideas of the other researcher are stolen.

To add, ethics in research is also needed to attain public support in research as the public will fund the research project if they trust the integrity and quality of the research (Velasquez et al., 2021). Probing further, ethics in research are also desired to hold the researchers accountable to the public. The ethics in research not only relate to the values and norms while writing on the research subject but also include the moral and social values which are required to be complied by the researcher while doing the scientific research. The main moral and social norms of research include social responsibility, public health, and safety, animal welfare, human rights, compliance with laws and regulations, etc.

The ethical lapses in the research can cause various serious problems to the animal and human subjects. For instance, the researcher performing clinical trials may harm or kill the patient if the ethical norms are not followed. In addition to this, the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research also has established the principles for promoting ethical practices in research. As per PETA, animals in excess of 100 million are killed each year to carry out research trials in laboratories across the United States. Such cruel practices are poised against the implementation of ethics in research.

Ethical principles in research

Ethical principles do not provide straightforward guidance to various decisions but they offer the point that needs to be considered by the individual while making decisions. Some of the main ethical principles in the research are discussed as follows-

  • Honesty and integrity

    This means that the researcher should do the research honestly and it applies not only to one segment of the research but applies to the methods, data, research, and publication of the research.

  • Objectivity

    Objectivity is one of the main ethical principles of research which means that the researcher should avoid the chance of biases in all aspects of research ranging from research data to data analysis and interpretation. The principle of objectivity also requires that the researcher should disclose personal as well as financial interests to prevent conflict of interest or bias.

  • Carefulness

    The researcher needs to perform the research in a manner that helps to prevent careless errors and negligence in the study. The researcher is also required to review their own work as well as the work of others carefully to maintain credible results.

  • Openness

    Openness is one of the main principles of research as it requires the researcher to remain open to criticism as well as new ideas. Openness supports that the researcher must also be able to share information, results, and new tools when publishing the findings of the study.

  • Respect for intellectual property

    Respect for intellectual property requires that researchers should never plagiarize or copy the work of others for their own benefits. The researcher must acknowledge the published work of others through proper referencing. Also, the unpublished data should not be used in the research.

  • Confidentiality

    The researcher must also be able to protect the confidential information of the participants such as patient information by following the guideline for protection of the sensitive information (SMITH, 2003).

  • Responsible publication

    The principle of responsible publication requires that researchers should avoid duplicate or wasteful publications and only the content relevant to an advanced state of knowledge should be published. Further, the responsible publication also requires that the researcher should publish to advance his knowledge and not just to advance in their career goals.

  • Legality

    The researcher is also required to respect the laws and regulations that govern the research work.

  • Animal care

    when doing some research on animals, the researcher is required to ensure that experiments done on animals are necessary and well-designed. The researcher should also show respect and care for the animals’ rights and emotions when using animals in the research study.

  • Human subject protection

    When doing research on humans, the researcher should also ensure that all possible harms to humans are minimized and the benefits for participants as well as other people are maximized. Respecting human rights is one of the main requirements of the research study and researchers are required to comply with the right to human dignity, autonomy and privacy while doing the research. Also, special care for vulnerable sections of people should be taken in the research to ensure human rights protection and safety (Skills, 2021).

Research ethics example

Case 1 - case on unethical practice in research

The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis was conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the US Public Health Service Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rural black men were selected as part of this study and it was told to them they will receive free health care services. However, this was not true and the participants of the study were deceived by OHS as PHS didn’t inform participants about ineffective methods and diagnosis procedures. None of the infected people was treated through Penicillin despite the fact that the medicine was recognized as a standard treatment method for Syphilis as the research participants were informed that the experiment would last for a period of 6 months but it was later extended to 40 years which resulted in loss of funding. The Tuskegee study was continued even after that without informing the participants that the participants will never be treated. Not just this, the Tuskegee study was done without informing participants about the effect of penicillin on disease which resulted in the death of 28 patients along with 100 deaths from the complications caused by Syphilis. Moreover, informed consent was missing in the study which led to ethical issues in the study (NIX, 2020). Thus, it is seen that the informed consent of the participants is a must in the study and the research design be well-designed to ensure ethicality in the study.

Case 2 - Case of ethics in research

Research on the impact of non-ophthalmic factors on the intravitreal injections was conducted during the COVID-19 lockdown period. In this research study, information from the patients who had received intravitreal injection appointments in 2020 at the tertiary care veteran health administration clinic was collected and compared with the patients who had appointments in 2019. The ethical approval for the research study was obtained by the institutional review board of the Los Angeles veterans’ health administration. However, the patient consent to analyse the medical reports was waived by the institutional review board due to the retrospective nature of the study. Despite this, the confidentiality of the patient data was maintained in the research study, and the research was conducted by complying with the declaration of Helsinki. Further, the research was also done by disclosing no conflict of interest along with funding declaration. The research helped to ensure compliance with various ethical principles i.e. confidentiality, authorship, autonomy, integrity, conflict of interest, respect for intellectual property, and prevention of plagiarism. The ethical approval was obtained and confidentiality of the information of the patient was maintained to maintain the privacy of the patient information (Ashrafzadeh et al., 2021). Further, the research study was published after properly checking for plagiarism and other intellectual property rights. In addition, the authors also reported no conflict of interest in the research which also helped to ensure that the results of the study were not biased for any personal gain.

Case 3- Application of beneficence principle

Laud Humphreys, a sociologist, identified that the public and legal authorities have stereotyped beliefs about the men who commit impersonal sexual acts with other individuals. Thus, Laud conducted the Tearoom sex study to gain information about the men who engage in impersonal sexual acts and the motivtion behind such acts. For this research, Laud decided to conceal his identity to avoid the response bias and thus, stationed himself in the room as the “WatchQueen''. Thus, the researcher violated the principle of disclosing the true identity and voluntary consent as some of the participants or subjects of the study could have been denied participation in the study if the true identity as the researcher was revealed. This study is also criticized on unethical grounds as the homosexual acts of individuals were obserrved without taking the consent of subjects. The researcher also recorded the license plate numbers to track them and to take interviews about the marital status, race, etc. Hence, the research performed by Laud Humphreys was unethical in nature. Laud breached various ethical principles of research and also put his subjects at risk of losing their families as well as their reputation in society. However, some of the researchers still argue that Humphreys didn’t violate the principles of beneficence as this research helped to promote sociological interest in social justice by dissolving the myth about the tearoom sex. The study helped to determine that the secual encounters in Tearoom are harmless and there are no dangers of harassment. Thus, the benefits of this research outweigh the potential risks of the study. The study also helped to influence the police departments to stop arresting the men involved in the victimless crimes (Yanow & Schwartz-Shea, 2018). Thus, ethics depend to a large extent on the beliefs, actions and experiences of the individual and what is ethical for one may not be ethical for all. Humphreys also complied with the principle of confidentiality of data by never publishing the anecdotes such as identifiers, personal data, etc.

Ethical considerations in research

We know that ethics have gained huge importance in the current times but what about ethical considerations in research? Research ethics make a core aspect of doing research as it is imperative that all the ethical principles are considered while doing the research. For any research involving human subjects, the research needs to be careful about the ethical issues which can arise during planning, data collection and analysis phases. The ethical consideration in research can be addressed by complying with ethical principles of research. The consideration of ethics in research is a must to prevent harm to research subjects.

  • The researchers are required to acquire, care for and use the animals in compliance with the federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Further, the researcher also needs to ensure voluntary participation of the respondents in the research study to prevent any form of coercion or deception. Thus, the participants need to be informed that there is no obligation to participate in the study and the participants have the right to refuse to participate in the study. Hence, informed consent of the respondents is needed to be taken to provide sufficient information to participants about the key elements of research and the implications of their participation in the study.
  • Confidentiality is the main ethical factor that needs to be considered while doing the research. The researcher should release the information to others only through explicit consent of the participants. Anonymity in research also requires that the identity of the respondents is unknown and unrevealed.
  • The other important ethical consideration in research are privacy and confidentiality as the researchers are required to ensure the privacy of the information of the research participants.
  • The conflict of interest is a major ethical issue which can be faced in the research study. This requires that the research should disclose all possible conflicts of interests as well as affiliation with any source of funding.
  • The researcher should maintain a higher degree of objectivity in the study and all forms of biased or misleading information should be avoided.
  • The researchers are also required to ensure that issues relating to plagiarism and misrepresentation are avoided which also requires that the researcher should remain careful that researchers do not misrepresent the work of others. Along with this, the researcher needs to acknowledge the work of others through proper referencing (Polonski, 2021).

Conclusion- How to promote ethics in research

Ethics is gaining significance in the current times due to the increasing need to promote honesty, integrity, objectivity, etc. The ethics in the research can be promoted by preventing falsified or manipulated data in the research. The research study can also be performed in the manner that avoids the chance of biases in the data analysis and interpretation. In addition, to perform research ethically and reliably, there is a need to facilitate proper care for the animals and conduct well-designed experiments. Not only animals, humans can also be important subjects of research. In such a case, the researcher is required to ensure that the humans are treated well and the chance of harm is minimized. Along with this, the researcher is also required to respect the right to privacy, autonomy, dignity, and confidentiality of information. Last but not least is that the researcher can take special care for the vulnerable group of people if vulnerable people are part of the research study.

Further readings

References

  • Ashrafzadeh, S., Gundlach, B., & Tsui, I. (2021).

    The Impact of Non-Ophthalmic Factors on Intravitreal Injections During the COVID-19 Lockdown

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Article By:

Henry Taylor

A writer with inborn talent, Henry Taylor has proven his expertise in the field of education blogging, time and again. It is owing to his very wisdom, that he has gained recognition in almost every division of teaching and practical inculcation of values to students.


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