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Research ethics involves the application of fundamental ethical principles to a variety of topics involved in scientific research.

A well constructed research ethics policy should seek to address the following issues:

  • Requirement for a clear research protocol statement from the outset, including clear timetable and detailed procedures.
  • Protection of clinical trial subjects
  • Clinical trials on minors
  • Clinical trials on incapacitated adults not able to give informed legal
  • Establishment of mandatory Ethics Committees
  • Governance procedures and independent ongoing oversight of the study.
  • Appropriate dissemination of the results

All research proposals now have to be submitted for ethical appproval by a local ethics committee in most countries.

The proper implementation of such policies should protect participants and guard against academic dishonesty, in the forms of scientific misconduct, such as fraud, fabrication (science) of data and plagiarism.

Research ethics is most developed as a concept in medical ethics. The key agreement here is the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki which followed on from the Nurenburg Codes published after the Second World War trials and the revelations about the research performed on people in the concentration camps.

Within psychology emphasis has been placed on proper ethical control of experimental work in response to concerns expressed about the conduct of high profile studies as the Stanford prison experiment in the 1960's which showed on the one hand, how people could be brought to act in an unethical manner, and on the other how poor ethical procedures made the studies themselves potentially harmful to the participants.

Research ethics guidelines are included in the professional ethical guidelines of many national psychological societies and in some cases are published seperately.

Ethical issues in research

Issues of scientific conduct

Research ethics involves the application of fundamental ethical principles to a variety of topics involving scientific research. These include the design and implementation of research involving human experimentation, animal experimentation, various aspects of academic scandal, including scientific misconduct (such as fraud, fabrication of data and plagiarism), whistleblowing; regulation of research, etc. Research ethics is most developed as a concept in medical research. The key agreement here is the 1974 Declaration of Helsinki. The Nuremberg Code is a former agreement, but with many still important notes. Research in the social sciences presents a different set of issues than those in medical research.

The scientific research enterprise is built on a foundation of trust. Scientists trust that the results reported by others are valid. Society trusts that the results of research reflect an honest attempt by scientists to describe the world accurately and without bias. But this trust will endure only if the scientific community devotes itself to exemplifying and transmitting the values associated with ethical scientific conduct.[1]

There are many ethical issues to be taken into serious consideration for research. Sociologists need to be aware of having the responsibility to secure the actual permission and interests of all those involved in the study. They should not misuse any of the information discovered, and there should be a certain moral responsibility maintained towards the participants. There is a duty to protect the rights of people in the study as well as their privacy and sensitivity. The confidentiality of those involved in the observation must be carried out, keeping their anonymity and privacy secure. As pointed out in the BSA for Sociology, all of these ethics must be honoured unless there are other overriding reasons to do so - for example, any illegal or terrorist activity.

Research ethics in a medical context is dominated by principalism, an approach that has been criticised as being decontextualised.[2]

Key issues

In terms of research publications, a number of key issues include and are not restricted to[3]:

  • Honesty. Honesty and integrity is a duty of each author and person, expert-reviewer and member of journal editorial boards.
  • Review process. The peer-review process contributes to the quality control and it is an essential step to ascertain the standing and originality of the research[4].
  • Ethical standards. Recent journal editorials presented some experience of unscrupulous activities.[5][6]
  • Authorship. Who may claim a right to authorship?[3] In which order should the authors be listed?

The ethical questions raised in psychological research differ with the research methods used

Ethical issues in human experimentation

Ethical issues in longtudinal research

Ethical issues in animal experiments

Guidlines for animal research

=Ethical isues in unobtrusive research

See also

References & Bibliography

  1. National Academy of Sciences. 2009. On Being a Scientist: Third Edition. Washington, DC: The national Academies Press. Available at:
  2. Shaw SE, Petchey RP, Chapman J, Abbott S (2009). "A double-edged sword? Health research and research governance in UK primary care." Social Science & Medicine, 68: 912-918
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hubert Chanson (2008). Digital Publishing, Ethics and Hydraulic Engineering: The Elusive or "Boring" Bore?, In: Stefano Pagliara 2nd International Junior Researcher and Engineer Workshop on Hydraulic Structures (IJREW'08), Pisa, Italy, Keynote, pp. 3-13, 30 July-1 August 2008.
  4. Hubert Chanson (2007). Research Quality, Publications and Impact in Civil Engineering into the 21st Century. Publish or Perish, Commercial versus Open Access, Internet versus Libraries ?, Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering, NRC, Vol. 34, No. 8, pp. 946-951 (DOI:10.1169/L07-027).
  5. D. Mavinic (2006). The "Art" of Plagiarism, Canadian Journal of Civil Engineering, NRC, Vol. 33, Iss. 3, pp. iii-vi.
  6. AIAA (2007). Publication Ethical Standards: Guidelines and Procedures, AIAA Jl, Vol. 45, No. 8, Editorial, No. 8, p. 1794 (DOI: 10.2514/1.32639).

Key texts


  • APA Guidelines for the Ethical Conduct in the Care and Use of Animals][1]
  • Kimmel, A.J. (1982).Ethics and Values in Applied Social Research. APA Books. ISBN 0912704829


Additional material



External Resources about Research Ethics

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