October 2, 2013
Political Science 3N06
Political Science 3N06 2013 Lecture 4b: Research Ethics
O CTOBER 2, 2013
General principles governing social scientific research
1. VOLUNTARY PARTICIPATION
- Participation in research should be voluntary
o It has to be continually voluntary; it has to be clear that they can
withdraw at any time.
- For participation to be truly voluntary there must informed consent
o What does this do to the validity of the kind of data that you get?
o What does participation actually entail?
o What are the potential risks?
o What are the potential costs?
o What are the potential rewards?
- Informed consent would also appear to require the avoidance of deception
o “Do not specifically state the nature of the survey as to change the
responses due to ‘informed’ consent”
o Some kinds of research requires that people do not know they are
“Formulation of policy” “leadership dynamics” etc. Only way
to do this is to get in the process; voluntary participation and
informed consent prevents this from happening; deception
might be required to get results. Can you do covert studies?
Some sort of research designs and questions might conflict with
this idea; can’t get the data that is required if we stick too
rigidly on this principle.
- Simply handing a consent sheet to marginalized communities may not be
o You must ensure that each participant fully understands the nature of
o What steps are you going to take to ensure that the consent that you
are getting is actually informed consent;
- Where there are power differentials between the researcher and the
1 October 2, 2013
Political Science 3N06
o There may be subtle types of coercion unknowingly at work
o IF there is a power disparity must address how to create a climate; that
levels these powers?
- What effect will fully informed consent have on the nature of your
- There are circumstances where fully revealing the nature of the study will
“influence the very phenomenon you are trying to observe”
- Moreover, those who volunteer to participate may not be representative of
the general population that you are interested in understanding
- Finally does fully informed consent inhibit investigations of corruption and
abuse of power (if you want to study those who may be guilty of either
- So what to do?
- One text suggests that “When the norm of voluntary participation is
impossible to follow, it’s all the more important that you observe the other
ethical norms of research”
2. DO NO H ARM
o Probably the most important principle
- What is harm?
o Absolute prohibition against physical harm
o But harm extends to a consideration of “emotional, social, financial,
legal, and psychological” harm
o These rights must be protected both during the data collection process
and after the conclusion of the study
o Consider critically-oriented research that is designed to expose
corruption or brutality
Corrupt politicians; police brutality; and as part of this process;