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Chapter 3

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Sociology (Arts)
SOCI 211
Yasmin Bayer

Chapter 3: Ethical Considerations in Social Research  Ethical considerations must be attended to during all phases of the research process  It is important to consider ethics and potential constraints when doing research in the real world  Ethical Dimensions of Social Research: o Just as certain procedures are too impractical to use, others are either ethically prohibitive or politically difficult or even impossible o Ethical considerations are not always self-evident. Some situations may be black or white but there may be grey areas in others. o They may also not be as apparent to one researcher as they are to another, or they may not be apparent at all. o Concerns with ethical standards and guidelines gained momentum in the later half of the 20 century o Social scientific research has the potential to harm subjects:  Psychological harm e.g. Milgram’s study  Potential physical harm e.g. Zimbardo’s study  Potential to put them in a legal jeopardy especially when underground or deviant behavior is being measured  Ethical Codes, REB’s and Tri-Councils: o Most professions and disciplines have their own guidelines as to do organizations, institutions and funding agencies o With each passing decade, greater attention is being paid to ethical review of research o In 1994, formation of the Tri-Council Working Group created a joint policy concerning ethical standards for research involving humans  The goal was to create a standard of ethical norms that transcended disciplinary boundaries  A condition of their funding to researchers is that the principles and policies laid out must be followed o Ethical issues in research are both important and ambiguous. o Formal codes of conduct describing what is acceptable or unacceptable professional behavior are themselves not adequate o REB’s have a right to approve, reject or ask modifications to research designs involving human subjects that is proposed or ongoing o Ethical review is required of all research involving human subjects o Researcher has to carefully design the study, taking good care to fully consider ethical issues and goals of the study and explain them to the board in such a manner that they make an informed decision  Statistics Canada: o Guidelines for ethical use are not just for new data collection o Statistics Canada has great concerns for maintaining confidentiality of those from whom it gains data o There are a large number of safeguards in place to protect subjects o It restricts the disclosure of information when cases are too small to help against the inadvertent identification of a research respondent  Ethical Issues in Social Research: o Ethical considerations concerning human subjects are increasingly complex and continually evolving  There is not always an agreement on what is ethical or not  Any given research may present the researcher with new and challenging ethical dilemmas o Even when ethical aspects of a situation are debatable, there is something to argue about o Ethics are typically associated with morality  Sources of distinction may vary  E.g. religious, political and pragmatic observations o What is regarded as an ethical or moral is a matter of agreement within a group  Different groups may agree on different codes of conduct o Anyone involved in research should be aware of the general agreements and disagreements about what’s proper and improper in the conduct of scientific inquiry 1. Voluntary Participation: a. Social research often, though not always, represents an intrusion in people’s lives b. Participation in a social experiment disrupts the subject’s regular activities c. Participation must be voluntary and no one should be forced to participate d. Volunteers may believe at times that they will personally benefit from the study and therefore may cooperate i. Voluntary participation may cause results to be un-generalizable  Participants may respond to an advertisement, survey etc. but they may not be the target population ii. In a descriptive survey, a researcher cannot generalize the sample’s findings to an entire population unless a substantial majority of the scientifically selected sample participates e. Field Research: i. Researcher may not be able to reveal that a study is being conducted for the fear of change in social processes being studied ii. Subjects in such cases may not even be given the choice to participate or not. f. The norm of voluntary participation is important but may be hard to follow 2. No Harm to Participants: a. Social researchers should never harm the people they are studying regardless of what they volunteered for b. Information that would embarrass or endanger them in any way should not be allowed to be published, leaked or reported c. Researchers must look for the subtlest of the dangers and guard against psychological harm i. Some probing may cause the respondents to feel uncomfortable, have fragile self esteem and distress that may last way after the completion of a study d. Ethical norms of voluntary participation and no harm to participants have become formalized in terms of informed consent i. Voluntary participation must be decided on the basis of a full understanding of possible risks involved on the part of the respondent  Requirements to sign a statement indicating that they aware o
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