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SOAN2120 Lecture Notes

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Sociology and Anthropology
SOAN 2120
Scott Schau

Chapter 3: Ethics in Social Research Introduction: Ethics include the concerns, dilemmas, and conflicts that arise over the proper way to conduct research. Ethics help define what is or is not legitimate to do, or what “moral” research procedure involves. Ethical issues ask you to balance two values: 1)The pursuit of knowledge 2)The rights of research participants or of others in society Researchers are constantly confronted with ethical dilemmas and must decide how to act. Ultimately, ethical research depends on the integrity of an individual researcher. Why be Ethical? –Ethical research will take longer to complete, cost more money, be more complicated, and be less likely to produce unambiguous results. –If one were to act unethically Odds of getting caught would be very small and written ethical standards are in the form of vague, loose principles. Scientific Misconduct: is an opposed type of unethical behavior. This occurs when a researcher falsifies or distorts the data or the methods of data collection, or plagiarizes the work of others. Unethical but Legal: For example a paper is written without any footnotes. Upon further inspection it is seen that many of the ideas and key information have been taken from another document written ten years earlier. The document written earlier was not copyrighted which means that it was perfectly legal to use the information for whatever use you wanted (in this case writing another paper) However completing such an act as plagiarizing another’s work would seem very unethical by most of the scientific community. Power Relations: For example a bonafide professor and a student assistant researcher are in a relationship of unequal power and trust. For scientific work to be seen as legitimate you need a person who has credentials and viewed as a legitimate member in the scientific community. The student researcher must trust that when the work is completed that they will receive recognition of their work from their superior (ie co author). This recognition will help them become a recognized figure in the scientific community and help their research in the future seem more legitimate. Ethical Issues Involving Research Participants When if ever are researchers justified in risking physical harm or injury to those being studied, causing them great embarrassment or inconvenience, violating their privacy, or frightening them? The law and codes of ethics boil down to “you should always show respect for the research participant. Physical Harm: Is very rare. A straightforward ethical principle is that researchers should never cause physical harm. This also includes taking into account ones conditions prior to any form of study (i.e you wouldn’t put a person who may be in danger of heart failure (stroke victim) in a situation that could potentially lead to their demise) Psychological Abuse, stress, or loss of Self Esteem: These are issues that can become much more common than physical harm. Researchers who tend to study issues that might lead to the above mentioned take all of the necessary precautions before inducing anxiety or discomfort such as 1. consulting with others who have conducted similar studies 2. Screening out high risk populations 3. Arrange for emergency interventions or termination of research if dangerous situations arise 4.Obtain written informed consent and debrief people immediately afterwards Legal Harm: A research is responsible for protect research participants from increased legal actions such as an arrest. The dilemma that arises becomes that of a moral issue. For example: A researcher studies the behavior and lives of homeless people in Toronto. The researcher observes some homeless people taking part in an illegal action such as drinking in public, or murdering someone. Now the later is much more extreme, Both acts are considered illegal but when is enough enough and when does the researcher stop being an observer and intervene in a situation. Something as petty as drinking in public perhaps may seem acceptable enough to continue observing and recording research but the murder of someone surely must seem unethical and be grounds for calling off the research and contacting authorities. Other Harm to Participants: This could include anxiety, discomfort, the effects a study might have on ones marriage, career or family. A researcher must evaluate each case, weigh potential harm against potential benefits, and bear the responsibility for the decision. Deception: Social researchers follow the principle of voluntary consent: Never force anyone to participate in research, and do not lie to anyone unless it is necessary and the only way to accomplish a legitimate research purpose. Informed Consent: Never coerce anyone into participating; participation must be voluntary at all time. Informed consent is an agreement by participants stating that they are willing to be in a study and they know something about what the research procedure will involve. Special Populations and New Inequalities: Special populations are people who lack the necessary cognitive competency to give valid informed consent or people in a weak position who might cast aside their freedom to refuse to participate in a study. (students, prison inmates, employees, w
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