Ethical Issues in Research

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Ethical behavior by a researcher protects the integrity of the project as well as the researcher and the company or institution that they represent. Careful monitoring of the research process ensures that the various stages of the process are held to the highest standards possible. Some main areas that researchers should pay special attention to are honesty, intellectual property, use of human subjects, confidentiality, and social responsibility. Violation of ethical standards in research can discredit not only the project, but the researcher as well. This may raise questions about the integrity of the researcher when considering future projects. If any of the information, analysis, results, or conclusions are compromised, the value of the whole project becomes compromised.

Ethical behavior and ethical actions are critical when conducting research. Research involves collecting data about the participants in the research study. Because of this, the researcher has the responsibility to protect the people involved in the research, trust them and be trusted by them, promote integrity in the research through constant monitoring of the process, protect them against inappropriate behavior, and anticipate and adapt to the various problems that may arise. While codes of conduct are often posted on the websites of various associations, the practice of ethics in research involves more than just following a list of printed rules.

When considering honesty and integrity in research, it is important to note that ethics considerations and legal considerations are not the same thing. Ethical norms can consist of following a procedural method to support the research in an unbiased fashion to gain knowledge and avoid any inconsistencies in the research process. The subjects must know why the research is being done and should not be tricked or coerced into contributing to inaccurate data results that reflect forced response. In addition to honesty and integrity with test subjects, it should be reflected in the guidelines used for authorship, copyright, patenting policies, confidentiality, and protection of intellectual property. The guidelines for these research norms help the process to gain support and trust and promote both the guidelines and the norms.

There are policies in place that provide guidelines for research misconduct, conflicts of interest, as well as responsibility toward test subjects to ensure that the integrity of the research process in maintained. This helps build public support and in turn promotes research that are funded by the public. It also ensures that consumers do not become victims to false claims of a product’s performance as demonstrated by inadequate research. The health and safety guidelines protect against research that may harm or even result in the death of a trial subject. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences lists some guidelines of ethical principles. They describe the guidelines for honesty as truthfulness in scientific communications, data reporting, methods and procedures, as well as publication status. It is not proper to falsify or misrepresent data to colleagues, funding agencies, or the public. The guidelines for integrity state that the researcher should keep their commitments and strive for consistency of thought and action. Respect intellectual property by acknowledging all patents and copyrights, give credit to the source as well as proper acknowledgement to contributing members of the project and to not plagiarize material. Human subjects should be exposed to minimal risks and maximum benefits while respecting their confidentiality, privacy, and dignity. Responsible publication is outlined as purposeful in promoting research and academics and to avoid wasteful duplications of already published areas of research. Understanding and following these as well as the additional guidelines with a consistent and honest checks and balances system can keep the research project on course and operating ethically.

Institutional review boards were created in response to prior research misconduct and other unethical behaviors of researchers. An IRB can also serve as liability protection in the event that the research project results in some sort of lawsuit or other legal action. Using the services of an IRB can act as a sort of insurance policy for the researchers and the company facilitating that process. An IRB reviews the research and determines whether or not he research is safe as well as ethical. IRB Services uses what they call a Research Ethics Database. This RED database allows their clients to submit their research projects and monitor the evaluation process in real time. Their website states that IRB Services handles over 20,000 applications each year and utilizes over 200 research ethics committees. They have their own list of ethics that they follow called the Human Rights Protection Program. They do not guarantee approval of any research project and have guidelines for avoiding conflicts of interest with clients. Independent agencies like this one help to improve the legitimacy of the project and to shift liability for the results of the research project from the researcher to the IRB.

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