While searching for a new topic for our blog I was really confused about the topic & about the content. But when I was browsing through the internet I came across an important topic which I thought will be useful for all of us. This is about the ethical research. How should we conduct ethical research & what all things we should consider before conducting any research.
An important aspect of research is the respect and consideration we show to the people who participate in the study with us. These people are our friends, companion, colleagues and our subjects. Research ethics, now often called the responsible conduct of research, is a large area, & this blog touches few of the major issues. There are many resources that discuss both the ethics of working with colleagues and the ethics of using human subjects in research. A good web site to explore both of these aspects is the Sigma Xi – New Ethical Challenges in Science and Technology.
Many times research on humans is dependent on the volunteer subjects. Generally the outcome of any research results in benefits to the society. These benefits come in the form of new methods of learning, treatments for disease, and ways of conducting our affairs. We do not want to build our society by keeping the life of our subject at stake. This is where the largest area of ethical concern lies in research: What are the rights of the subject, and when is the manipulation of the subject unethical?
There are four areas of concern where the rights and dignity of the subject must be preserved. These areas are: consent, harm, privacy, and deception.
Four Ethical Issues that should be taken care of:
Consent – It must be ensured whether the research subject is willing to participate in the study or not. It consist of three elements: capacity, information, and voluntariness. All three elements must be satisfied for consent to be given.
Capacity can be defined as the person’s ability to perform or retain knowledge or the legal qualification to perform that act. i.e. Whether a person is capable enough to give his or her consensus. Say, whether a mentally retarded has that capacity? Whether a minor below the legal age is allowed to participate in the study?
Next is Information that ensures the subject’s awareness about the study.
Third is Voluntariness which ensures the willingness of the subject to participate in the study & the freedom to withdraw from the research as and when desired. There must be no element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, ulterior form of constraint or coercion to get a subject to participate. Paying subjects is usually OK, but offering prisoners a parole to participate in a study is not.
Another issue a researcher might have to deal with is Harm. It is one of the important issue of any research. Researcher should take care that his or her subject should not be harmed due to their research. It is but obvious to avoid physical harm, also researcher should take care about the psychological stress, embarrassing questions. At any cost subject dignity should be protected while doing the research.
There’s a high probability of harm if research is not carefully planned and supervised. It, quite often, has been seen in cases of medical research which runs the risk of harm to the individual through the use of a new drug or surgical procedure. Also, Educational research runs risks of psychological and social harm due to the effects of a classroom intervention in the learning or socialization processes.
The objective of course is to reduce the risk of harm as much as possible, but since some risk may always be present. How much is too much? The question is unanswerable without the context and gravity of the situation. It is always a judgment call by the researcher. One guideline that I feel can be followed is answering this question – Does the risk or harm to the subject outweigh the potential good to society of the study? If yes, the study should not be done because he(researcher) cannot offset the risk of harm by getting the subject’s consent. If a consenting adult subject is hurt he can still be at fault in both the legal and moral aspects.
Another important issue is Privacy. Every subject has the right to keep his or her facts private and disclosed in the research. Researcher should ensure that the privacy of the subject should be maintained. While publishing the results, researcher should make sure that the report does not affects the subjects’ privacy in one or another way.
Violation of the promise of privacy can result in harm to the subject.
There is a trade off in science’s need to know and the individual’s right not to tell. Again there is no rule about what is too private to ask about. Obviously questions about sexual preferences, criminal behaviour, and other sensitive areas can be asked in certain circumstances, but the dignity of the individual must be respected in all cases.
One more important issue is Deception i.e. misrepresenting facts’ purpose, nature & consequences. Omission of any facts is treated as misrepresentation which is not ethical. Even if researcher has obtained consent from the subject, still it will not be consider as complete consent. The researcher would be considered morally wrong. He can be easily sued if any form of deception comes into play.
Some studies require that subjects in the experimental groups not to know what treatments they are getting because the knowledge might alter their response. How can this type of study be done without deception? Sometimes the knowledge that one is a participant in a study will alter performance (this is called the Hawthorn effect). How could this effect be countered without deception? He can use a placebo control group.
Placebo controls are not deceptive if subjects are told they may be assigned to a group that does not get the experimental treatment.
Well it is very important to conduct research in order to advance our society, but it is also important to conduct our research ethically. Ensuring all the above points will help both the researcher & the subject to attain their objective & goal.
Other Members: Amrit Jain, Ankit Saxena, Gugan N, Jyoti Kanwatia, Sonam Supriya, Sumit Ranjan,Yogesh Sham Gupta