Ethical considerations are a fundamental component of research. Failure to follow a specified code of conduct when conducting research can invalidate your findings and undermine scientific integrity.
Definition: Ethical considerations
Ethical considerations in research refer to guidelines and principles which researchers must adhere to as they conduct their research. Research often involves face-to-face interaction with people as researchers study behaviors and test the effects of certain phenomena on a target population. Ethical considerations dictate the nature of such interactions to ensure research is done per the set rules and principles.1
Why are ethical considerations necessary?
Ethical considerations are important because they promote research objectives, including avoidance of error, truth, and knowledge. Ethical considerations prohibit false interpretations and misrepresentation of facts in deriving conclusions from any research undertaking.2
Furthermore, ethical considerations are necessary to promote trust, collaboration, and mutual respect since research usually involves cooperation between researchers and people from different dispositions. A cohesive environment fostered by ethical considerations ensures all the parties involved throughout the research can exchange responses and ideas for successful research undertaking in the following ways:
Safeguarding the rights of the participants:
It is vital to ensure that the rights of the participants are not violated in any way. Failure to respect the rights of research participants often leads to misleading information or hostility in some instances.
Promote research validity:
Going against ethical considerations through coercion or deliberately misleading research participants invalidates the research findings. Any evidence of misconduct during research may render your findings unusable and attract penalties.
Protecting scientific integrity:
Science aims to solve some of humanity’s most complex problems. Researchers should be guided by ethical considerations to collect data and propose useful findings used in policy making.
Ethical considerations also promote public participation in adoption of policies informed by research. Lack of adherence to ethical considerations may cause backlash from the public and inhibit efforts to create policies around known research undertakings. Additionally, ethical considerations help to hold researchers accountable for their methods during the research.
Ethical considerations: Types of ethical issues
Researchers should observe the following ethical considerations throughout their research:
Researchers should ensure no participants are coerced into participating in a study. Voluntary participation is a vital principle of ethics in research as it ensures every research participant does so as a personal decision. This is particularly relevant in “captive” populations such as prisons and institutions where the participants may be wrongfully mandated to participate in research studies.3
Anonymity in research means that the identity of research participants should be kept secret by ensuring responses cannot be linked back to specific respondents. It can also imply that no personal identification details such as names and residential addresses are collected during the initial stages of the research.5
Potential for harm
Potential for harm implies potential physical or emotional injury and other inconveniences that may arise from a subject’s participation in research. Researchers must fully disclose the potential risks associated with a study before any engagement with the research participants. The element of risk is usually captured in the consent form, which outlines the potential risks and the procedures in place for each.7
Informed consent is one of the pillars of ethics in research. It is closely associated with voluntary participation, which implies participants should join a research case of their own volition with full disclosure from the research team. Consent must be obtained prospectively, and no undue influence should be exerted on the respondents. Informed consent may be given in writing or given orally.4
Most research projects involve the collection of personal data. Researchers must ensure the research participants’ identities and responses are protected. Confidentiality is important in studies such as health research, where a breach of confidence could stigmatize participants known to suffer from an ailment. Researchers should ensure that no one outside the research team can access respondents’ confidential information unless otherwise required by legal bodies.6
Communication of research results may raise ethical issues. Researchers are responsible for ensuring that they communicate their results honestly and credibly. Plagiarism is one of the most widespread ethical concerns in scientific research where researchers unlawfully present other people’s work as their own.
Ethical Considerations: The danger of unethical practices
Unethical research practices invalidate the research findings and cause grave physical, social, and psychological harm to the research participants. One of the most infamous cases of blatant ethical misconduct was the syphilis experiment of the 1940s carried out in Tuskegee, US.
The disease affected at least 1 in 10 Americans, and the government soon flagged syphilis as a national pandemic. Medical experts identified unprotected sex as the major avenue for transmission, although studies also showed that it could be transmitted during childbirth. Researchers propose two main research questions:
- Did late-stage syphilis excuse the risks of prevailing treatments?
- Was race a factor in the progression of the disease?
Initially, the research examined the progression of syphilis with minimal treatment in black men with late-stage non-contagious syphilis. However, the medications were replaced with placebos administered through invasive spinal taps to test the neurological effects of the disease. When the participants died, the PHS would use their bodies to “further their research.”
In today’s circumstances, the complete disregard for ethical principles, in this case, is appalling, but fortunately, it has set the foundation for ethical considerations.8
Ethical considerations are important to protect research participants. They also ensure research findings are credible, honest, and valid.
Anonymity refers to the actions undertaken by the researcher to ensure the participants’ identity cannot be linked to their responses. Confidentiality refers to the measures taken to ensure no one outside the research team knows the participants’ identities.
Informed consent is one of the most important ethical considerations. It means that research participants must agree to participate with full information and without undue influence.
It refers to the manipulation and falsification of data in research. It is an adverse ethical matter as it may damage scientific credibility and an institution’s integrity.
1 Pubrica-academy. “Importance of Ethical Codes & Considerations in Research of Conduct for Researchers. ” November 12, 2019. https://pubrica.com/academy/research/importance-of-ethical-codes-considerations-in-research-of-conduct-for-researchers/
2 Enago Academy. “What Are the Ethical Considerations in Research Design?” April 29, 2022.
3Hogan, Sean O. Lavrakas, Paul J. “Voluntary Participation.” Accessed November 23, 2022. https://methods.sagepub.com/reference/encyclopedia-of-survey-research-methods/n629.xml
4 Universitiy of Oxford. “Informed consent.” December 2, 2021. https://researchsupport.admin.ox.ac.uk/governance/ethics/resources/consent
5 Endicott College. “What is the Difference Between Anonymity and Confidentiality?” Accessed November 23, 2022. https://www.endicott.edu/about/research-at-endicott/institutional-review-board-irb/what-is-the-difference-between-anonymity-and-
6 The Evergreen State College. “Understanding Confidentiality and Anonymity.” Accessed November 23, 2022. https://www.evergreen.edu/humansubjectsreview/confidentiality
7 University of Nebraska. “Potential Risks and Discomforts.” Accessed November 23, 2022. https://www.unk.edu/academics/gradstudies/irb/consent-assent/potential-risks-discomfort.php
8 Reverby, Susan M. “Ugly History: The U.S. Syphilis Experiment.” Ouros Animation. June 8, 20221. Lesson, 5:18. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZV7RzS8QRXE