In 1946 the atrocities committed by Nazi scientists in the name of research were investigated in War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg. 16 doctors and administrators were found guilty of “willing participation in the systematic torture, mutilation, and killing of prisoners in experiments”. This led to development of the Nuremberg Code in 1947, the first international code of research ethics.
Hence, to address the question “what is ethics in research and why it is important” one should first consider the next question: “is the only aim to do the best work?” If so, ethical issues may be underestimated. It was actually the defense of Nazi scientists. Far from this horrifying precedents, still in today’s social research we need to handle many ethical issues. Dealing with such topics as illness, politic, religion or sexuality, among others; participant’s interest must be safeguarded. Above all, acting ethically in research means protecting participants’ interests and rights. Five more important issue must be highlighted:
1. Exploitation of participants. Until the 1970’s highly unethical social and medical studies were common. A good example was the experiment among a group of 399 African American men afflicted with syphilis unknowingly from 1930s to 1970. Although there is no evidence that in today’s social research these kind of cases still exist there may be situation when researcher’s interest are over the participant´s interests.
2. Deception. When a field interviewer misrepresents the true purpose of research it is considered deception. The participant lies to participants to obtain information he/she could not otherwise obtain. It may happen when, for example, the interviewer pretends he/she is a student in a certain subject in order to obtain critical information about a competitor.
5. Personal data protection. The danger of misuse personal data has led government to increase legislation on this issue. A good example is the implementation of the European Union Directive 95/46/EC. This provides protection for individuals in relation to the processing, storing and movement of data. As a researcher, one may face this kind of situations, especially as to personal data of potential participants in focus group. Market research companies usually own their own dataset with potential participants. To communicate with then, details as address or phone number must be stored. For this reason, it is recommendable to compliance the current legislation. As long as personal information is processed and stored in the research’s computer, a number of legal rules must be compliance.Finally, research ethics has a lot to do with reflection and sensitiveness. Apart from the formal rules and norms, safeguard participants’ interest requires a constant exercise of reflection and sensitiveness from the researcher. A good way to do so is try to take participants’ role and think from their perspective. How would one feel?
Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited
Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.
NIH, Protecting Human Research Participants, p.11-13; http://phrp.nihtraining.com/users/pdf.php
Seay, Laura. “Ebola, research ethics, and the ZMapp serum” The Washington Post 6 August 2014:
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