Introduction to Research Ethics
Ethics is the set of moral principles that a person is expected to follow irrespective of time and place. Research ethics focuses on the norms and values or code of conduct that researchers must follow so as to ensure responsible conduct of research. It treats values like honesty, social responsibility and integrity as the underlying tenets for conducting any form of research.
The major principles of Research ethics are as follows:
- Minimising the risk of harm
- Obtaining informed consent
- Protecting anonymity and confidentiality
- Avoiding deceptive practices
- Providing the right to withdraw
I. Practices that are against Research Ethics
Practises against research ethics or Research Misconduct is defined as “the fabrication, falsification, plagiarism or deception in proposing, carrying out or reporting results of research or deliberate, dangerous or negligent deviations from accepted practises in carrying out research.” However, it is important to note that research misconduct does not include honest error or honest differences of opinion. Some of the major research misconducts are discussed in the following paragraphs
Fabrication is making up data or results and recording or reporting them. It is the manipulation of research data with the intention of giving a false impression. It need not be a complete lie and may have an element of truth but mostly it is an exaggeration or downplay of the real situation so as to get the expected results.
Eg: Claims made on the basis of incomplete or assumed results
Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment or processes, or changing or omitting research data results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record. Unlike fabrication, falsification doesn’t have an element of truth and is completely deliberate and untruthful manipulation of information
Eg: publishing untrue and manipulated facts associated with a study
Plagiarism comprises the misappropriation or use of one’s own or other’s ideas, intellectual property or work (written or otherwise), without acknowledgement or permission.
a.) Direct Plagiarism occurs when a person copies the text of another person, without any changes and doesn’t use quotation marks or attribution.
b.) Self-plagiarism: reuse of one’s own work without suitable acknowledgement.
c.) Mosaic Plagiarism: involves copying phrases, passages and ideas from different sources and putting them together to create new content.
d.) Paraphrasing Plagiarism: It involves the use of someone else’s writing with some minor changes in the sentences and using it as one’s own.
- Breach of duty of care
Breach of duty of care is serious misconduct of research as it shows the inability and carelessness on the part of the researcher to ensure the protection and safety of the respondents.
Eg: Disclosing improperly the identity of individuals or groups involved in research without their consent or any other breach of confidentiality or anonymity
- Fraudulent information
Misleading or fraudulent behaviour includes acts contributing to or associated with lying. It takes on any form of fabrication, falsification or misrepresentation
Eg: Taking credit for accomplishments achieved by another researcher.
Tampering is the unauthorized removal or alteration of documents, software, equipment, or other academic-related materials. It should be noted that tampering may also be classified as a criminal activity.
Eg: Sabotaging another Researcher’s work intentionally
- Copyright violation
Academic integrity prohibits the making of unauthorized copies of copyrighted material, including software and any other non-print media. Individuals, however may make a copy of an article or small sections of a book for personal use.
Eg: Making or distributing copies of a copyrighted article in a group.
Misinterpretation refers to an interpretation of the results that is not consistent with the actual results of the study. It is the manipulation of the results of the study so as to get the desired outcome.
Eg: suppression of relevant findings, or knowingly, recklessly or by gross negligence presenting a flawed data interpretation
II. Steps to ensure ethics in research
Ethical research can be ensured by strictly following the five major concepts also known as the 5 ‘R’s in Research ethics. They are:
One of the basic qualities of a good researcher is to respect the respondent’s opinion and their confidentiality. People who contribute their views to research need to feel comfortable about what will happen to the information they give. Thorough research and preparation must be done prior to data collection so as to ensure that the respondent’s time is not wasted.
There should be a proper assessment of personal risk as well as potential risks to other people involved in the research. Necessary steps should be taken to mitigate these risks.
Eg, are you putting your respondents in a situation of potential job loss because of your research? You have to limit the risk for the respondent, by ensuring confidentiality and convince them that they won’t lose their job because they helped you with your project.
It is the responsibility of the researcher to make the respondents and other people involved in the research understand what is expected of them, their rights including the right to withdraw from the research, our obligations towards them and what happens to the data collected from them. It is very important to obtain informed consent from respondents before data collection and moving forward with the research process.
Most universities have a pre-existent process that offers a guided pathway through the various issues surrounding the research that need to be addressed. This process should be strictly followed by the researcher. It is also necessary to get the approval of the concerned authority before taking further steps. In case of any misconduct on the part of the researcher, they are also liable to accept the consequences and face disciplinary action.
- Record keeping
The researcher must document all consent forms and maintain the records containing details of how the information is collected, whether it is confidential or not, how it will be used, stored and the disposal method. Record keeping not only helps to keep a systematic track of your research process but it also helps the researcher to collect proof in case if they are later sued by any of the respondents.