Ethical issues can be observed in any kind of research. Debates on ethics in research have been long history, but became more serious in the 20th century. Violations of human rights in scientific research have been worst event in the history, particularly in medical research, such as Tuskegee Syphilis study on black males. From 1932-1972 more than 400 African men suffering from syphilis were purposely left untreated in order to study on illness. Even though the research was sponsored by United States Public Health Service, the disclosure of 40year study caused public outrage (Caplan, 1992). Another example of unethical research was involving pregnant women. It was conducted in between 1950-1952 in which more than 1000 women were given diethylstilbestrol to prevent miscarriages. It was revealed 20 years later that the children of these women had high rates of cancer and suffered from abnormalities (Capron, 1989). Reaction to such experiments led to the creation of formal regulations on research ethics such as 1947 Nuremberg Code, the 1964 Helsinki declaration by the world medical association, the 1979 Belmont report in the USA and a series of data protection and human protection acts worldwide ( ) According to the Belmont report the three important scientific norms that direct all researchers involving humans are –
1) Respect for person – this respect relates to ensuring protection of persons with autonomy and also those who are vulnerable.
2) Beneficence – This means that there is No harm such as at the individual level, physical, psychological, social and reputational and practical and occupational harm (Hammersley and Traianou, 2012) to the research participants.
3) Justice – ensuring reasonable, non-exploitative and carefully considered procedures with fair distribution of costs and benefits.
The Nuremberg code also states other important principles that protect the research participants which include-
1) Consent of human subjects –
2) Freedom of coercion-
3) Minimization of risk and harm-
The ethical guidelines should not be prescriptive rather the practitioners should be trained in ethico-analytical skills to be able to make their own ethical decision (Frank Vanclay, James T. Baines & Nicholas Taylor, 2013). Earlier codes tended to focus on the obligations to society and to the proper conduct of research, whereas newer codes tend to focus on obligations to research participants (Kenny & Giacomini, 2005). An example about this can be found in the Australian Government (1999) National statement, where clause 1.4 states that ‘each research protocol must be designed to ensure that the respect for the dignity and wellbeing of the participants takes precedence over the expected benefits to knowledge’ The 2012 version of the Anthropological Association states that ‘obligations to research participants are usually primary’. (F.Vanclay, 2013). Every institution and association has their own research guidelines which are formed from the basis of Nuremberg code 1947 and Belmont report 1979.The literature review from Frank Vanclay, James T. Baines & C. Nicholas Taylor briefly describes principles of ethics in social research. These ethical principles are obtained from different association and institution such as Social Policy Association (SPA), Association of Social Anthropologist (ASA), American Sociological Association, American psychological Association (APA), American Anthropological Association (AAA) etc. The principles are as follows
1) Respect for participants – A researcher should always show respect in terms of all their interactions with participants by not judging them, not questioning them, in ensuring that their views are faithfully documented. It also means that the autonomy of research participants and the vulnerable group is ensured.
2) Informed consent – This means that participants should be informed about the research, the risks involved and consequences of their participation. The consent is expected to be recorded in writing as signed consent forms. This will help the researcher in the event of the audit up to several years after the research is completed.
3) Specific permission required for audio or video recording- if the researcher plans to take a photograph, video record or audio record a research participant, then the approval for this must be taken in advance.
4) Voluntary participation and Non-coercion- This means that the research participant must take part in the research voluntarily and should not be bribed to take part in the research.
5) Right to withdraw – The participants must know their right to withdraw from the research or remove any recorded data from the analysis when it is possible.
6) No harm to participants- it means that there must be no harm to the participants as well as no adverse consequences faced as a result of their participation in the research.
7) Avoidance of undue intrusion – it means that the participants should not intrude in their personal and private life and the researcher should have enough knowledge on what is personal and private.
8) No deception- the participants shouldn’t be deceived by the researcher or no covert methods must be used for the purpose of the research. If covert method is used it must be approved by the appointed ethics committee.
9) Presumption and preservation of anonymity – the name of the research participant must be anonymous when stating in the research work, and if the identity of the participant has to be mentioned then the approval from the participant is necessary.
10) Right to check and modify the transcript- where the participant is named or identified, has the right to check how they are quoted and has the right change the transcript. Some codes (e.g. Australian government 2007, clause 3.1.15) suggest that respect for participant means that “all participants should be able to check their transcript for accuracy and completeness.
11) Confidentiality of personal matters – this means that the researcher is responsible for making judgment on what should be confidential and what should be reported. When sensitive details have been given to the researcher with confidence by the participant it means that they trust the researcher and such confidentiality must be protected.
12) Data protection – it means that all the data of the participants must be secured and safe from the unauthorized access. It is also expected that there is stated timeline for the safe disposal of the data.
13) Enabling participation – It means that the researcher has the responsibility to ensure that all relevant individual or groups take part irrespective of the language problem ,access or cost to participate. Therefore the researcher must make an effort to enable the participation by providing an access to transportation or arranging for an appropriate translator. These efforts will help the researcher to enable participation.
14) Ethical governance – they play in important role in the research as they are responsible for reviewing the research protocol prior to the research is actually taken place. They are also responsible for monitoring research activities and make judgments to the received complaints.
15) Grievance procedure – Good ethical governance wants that the participants have access to a grievance procedure and use corrective action. The grievance procedure must be procedurally fair and properly revealed to participants.
16) Appropriateness of research methodology – it means that the research must be valid and reliable as the participants devote their time on the assumption that the research is genuine and worthwhile.
17) Full reporting methods -Research methods and analytical procedures must be fully revealed in order to permit replication of the research by another researcher; allow peer review of the adequacy and ethicality of the methodology; and to encourage self-reflection on the limitations of the methodology and any implications for the results and conclusions.
18) Full disclosure of funding resources- An implication of the principles of informed consent is that there must be full disclosure of the sources of the funding for the research.
These principles provide ethical direction to researchers and practitioners and to the institution in which they work. Being ethical is essential for good quality research and is also necessary to avoid damage to the field (Alex Broom, 2006) from (ethical issues of social research). But to what extent the ethics can improve the quality of the research? An authentic research involves ethical consideration because researchers need to work in the field and collect sufficient data (Goffman 1989: 126-130). Therefore in order to maintain integrity and validity of a research, ethical issues need to be considered on conducting a research. Researchers need to be truthful to the social justice and moral principles, should respect their participants and do justice to informed consent ( Marshall & Rossman 2011: 44).Ethical guidelines improves qualitative research as there is a maintenance of privacy ,anonymity and no harm is given to the participants. At times researcher may mislead or deceive their participants and at times they may be deceived by participants. The researchers therefore use ethical guidelines to handle these situations carefully (Fine 1993: 270-271)
Researchers in a social research follow the institutional ethical guidelines which are approved by the ethical committee of respective institution .For ex- Institutional Review Board (IRB) and Review Ethics Board (REB). These committees suggest principles related to harm, consent, anonymity of the research subjects and also make guidelines to deal with informed consent ,confidentiality ,right to privacy and protecting human subjects from harm( Ellis 2007:4, swanger 2011:489). But during the actual field work, researchers may not be able to follow the ethical guideline of the ethical committee because some ethical questions related to the actual field situation may occur which may not be solved with the guidelines of the ethics committee. Such type of ethics may be identified as “ethics in practice” (Guillemen & Gillman 2004:261-263; Gonzalez-Lopez 2011:45).This means that the research must be conscious and alert to the emotional, physical, and political safety of the participants. So what guidelines should the researchers follow if an unexpected problem occurs? What should the researchers do when the participants are reluctant to give details during the research even after they have signed the informed consent document? In such a situation, researchers must apply their own expertise and past experiences along with the ethical guidelines in order to solve ethical issues in more appropriate manner (Linclon & Cuba, 1985 cited in Cutcliffe & Ramcharan, 2002:105). It was concluded by the author that the social research requires appropriate, ethically sound and morally strong procedures where ethical issues are essential. Though the institutional ethical committees approve the guidelines to meet the demand of ethics, in actual field research these directions may not help the researchers to handle the complex social environments. Hence right ethical aspect may ensure the quality of a qualitative social enquiry.
( Iqbal Ahmed Chowdhury, 2015).