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Ethical Issues in Social Research Essay

Ethics is a part of every society and is entwined in every aspect of daily living, however the meaning of ethics or what is ethical differs. Ethics is commonly associated with morality and Webster’s New world Dictionary defines ethical as “conforming to the standards of conduct of a given profession or group.” Knowing what a particular society considers ethical and unethical is what contributes to living successfully in that society. This is the same for researchers; researchers need to be aware of what is considered ethical and unethical conduct of scientific inquiry. From the time immediately after World War II until the early 1990s, there was a gradually developing consensus about the key ethical principles that should underlie the research endeavor; two events stand out as symbolic of this consensus. The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial following World War II brought to public view the ways German scientists had used captive human subjects as subjects in oftentimes gruesome experiments. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study involved the withholding of known effective treatment for syphilis from African-American participants who were infected.

Events like these forced the reexamination of ethical standards and the gradual development of a consensus that potential human subjects needed to be protected from being used as ‘guinea pigs’ in scientific research. There are several reasons why it is important to adhere to ethical norms in research. First, norms promote the aims of research, such as knowledge, truth, and avoidance of error. For example, prohibitions against fabricating, falsifying, or misrepresenting research data promote the truth and avoid error. Second, since research often involves a great deal of cooperation and coordination among many different people in different disciplines and institutions, ethical standards promote the values that are essential to collaborative work, such as trust, accountability, mutual respect, and fairness. For example, many ethical norms in research, such as guidelines for authorship, copyright and patenting policies, data sharing policies, and confidentiality rules in peer review, are designed to protect intellectual property interests while encouraging collaboration.

Most researchers want to receive credit for their contributions and do not want to have their ideas stolen or disclosed prematurely. Third, many of the ethical norms help to ensure that researchers can be held accountable to the public. For instance, federal policies on research misconduct, conflicts of interest, the human subject’s protections, and animal care and use are necessary in order to make sure that researchers who are funded by public money can be held accountable to the public. Fourth, ethical norms in research also help to build public support for research. People are more likely to fund research project if they can trust the quality and integrity of research. Finally, many of the norms of research promote a variety of other important moral and social values, such as social responsibility, human rights, and animal welfare, compliance with the law, and health and safety.

Ethical lapses in research can significantly harm human and animal subjects, students, and the public. For example, a researcher who fabricates data in a clinical trial may harm or even kill patients and a researcher who fails to abide by regulations and guidelines relating to radiation or biological safety may jeopardize his health and safety or the health and safety of staff and students. We can’t solve our social problems until we understand how they come about, persist. Social science research offers a way to examine and understand the operation of human social affairs. It provides points of view and technical procedures that uncover things that would otherwise escape our awareness. Often, as it goes, things are not what they seem; social science research can make that clear.

Social research is often seen as an intrusion to people, as it is seen as a disruption in their normal daily activities. Social research examines a society’s attitudes, assumptions, beliefs, trends, stratifications and rules. Social research obtains personal information about people, information that might not be known by the people closest to them. The information obtained can then be revealed to other people such as lawyers and doctors and in the case of lawyers this information can then be revealed to their clients; therefore social researchers like to believe that the research will help all humanity. Popular topics of social research include poverty, racism, class issues, sexuality, voting behavior, gender constructs, policing and criminal behavior. Research can be conducted using surveys, reports, observation, questionnaires, focus groups, historical accounts, personal diaries and census statistics.

There are two types of research: qualitative research and quantitative research. Qualitative research is inductive, meaning the researcher creates hypotheses and abstractions from collected data. Most data is collected via words or pictures and mostly from people. Researchers are interested in how people make sense of their lives and in the research process itself. Quantitative research is the complete opposite and most often involves numbers and set data. Quantitative data is efficient but focuses only on the end result, not the process itself, as qualitative research does. Quantitative data is precise and is often the result of surveys or questionnaires. Voluntary participation is a major principle of research ethics and the same applies to social research.

Everyone participating should do so voluntary and should not be forced in any way. Participants should also be informed that there is no reward for participating in the research and they will not be penalized if they do not want to participate. Voluntary participation does however, raise scientific concerns, a major one being generalization. This is said because it is believed that only people with the same personality or same traits would volunteer to participate in a particular research therefore the results will not apply to the population as a whole.

There are instances where the researcher will not reveal they are doing a research because they will not want the subjects to be affected in terms of not wanting to participate. In these instances the subjects don’t get to chose if they want to participate, therefore the researcher has to ensure that they do not bring any harm to the subjects they are studying. Harm can be defined as both physical and psychological. There are two standards that are applied in order to help protect the privacy of research participants. Almost all research guarantees the participants’ confidentiality; they are assured that identifying information will not be made available to anyone who is not directly involved in the study. The stricter standard is the principle of anonymity which essentially means that the participant will remain anonymous throughout the study –even to the researchers themselves. The need to protect the subjects has been in part to violations against subjects by medical researchers, like the experiments performed on prisoners of war by Nazi researchers in World War II. Social research should never harm the subjects, no matter if it is voluntary or not. Social researchers should ensure that their research will in no way embarrass subjects or endanger their family life, jobs or anyone else they are associated with.

Social researchers have an obligation to protect their subjects, therefore they have to ask the subjects very personal questions about their behavior, income or anything else that may personal agony or harm to the subject. It is because of this that all participants must be informed of the risks involved in participating in research projects. Social researchers should also be careful when writing books or articles about their studies because the subjects often read the books or articles and if they see themselves in a negative way. The key to research whether it is, voluntary participation or avoiding harm, is sensitivity to the issues being researched and experience with applicants. Even when clear ethical standards and principles exist, there will be times when the need to do accurate research runs up against the rights of potential participants. No set of standards can possibly anticipate every ethical circumstance. Furthermore, there needs to be a procedure that assures that researchers will consider all relevant ethical issues in formulating research plans.

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