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
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
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
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
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