Ethics in research

“High standards of research integrity underpin the quality and reliability of the research outcomes generated”

“All researchers are expected to observe the highest standards of integrity, honesty and professionalism and to embed good practice in every aspect of their work….individual actions must comply with the principles of honesty, openness, transparency and research rigour.”

From RCUK Policy and Guidelines on Governance of Good Research Conduct.

A common way of defining research ethics is the norms for professional conduct that distinguish acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Ethical norms tend to be broader and more informal than laws. An action may be legal but unethical or illegal but ethical.

Why is it important to adhere to ethical norms in research?

  • They promote the aims of research, such as knowledge, truth, and avoidance of error
  • Many are designed to protect intellectual property interests while encouraging collaboration
  • They help to ensure that researchers can be held accountable to the public. They also help to build public support for research
  • They include other important moral and social values, such as social responsibility, human rights, animal welfare, compliance with the law, and health and safety
  • Professional researchers are responsible to their employers and funders for complying with codes and policies relating to research ethics

Your university, research funder and professional body are likely to have policies, principles and guidelines for research ethics. As these cannot cover every situation, as well as becoming knowledgeable about these requirements, researchers must learn to interpret and apply them for their specific situation.

When considering an ethical issue, consider the following

What is the problem or issue? Get a clear statement of the problem

  • What is the relevant information? Many bad decisions are made as a result of poor information. Make sure you gather as much information as you can concerning all aspects of a situation.
  • What are the options? You may fail to see all the options due to bias, ignorance, a limited imagination, or fear. Take this into account and discuss options with other people
  • How do ethical codes or policies as well as legal rules apply to these different options?
  • Who can offer ethical advice?