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Research Ethics
Dr Andrew Armitage
Morals or ethics?
• Morals:
– Of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right
conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical:
moral attitudes.
– Expressing or conveying truths or counsel as to right conduct, as
a speaker or a literary work; moralizing: a moral novel.
– Founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather
than on legalities, enactment, or custom: moral obligations.
– Capable of conforming to the rules of right conduct: a moral
– Conforming to the rules of right conduct ( opposed to immoral): a
moral person.
– Virtuous in sexual matters; chaste.
– Of, pertaining to, or acting on the mind, feelings, will, or
character: moral support.
– Ethics: Underpinned by value systems
Morals or ethics?
• Ethics:
– A system of moral principles: the ethics of a culture.
– The rules of conduct recognized in respect to a
particular class of human actions or a particular
group, culture, etc.: medical ethics; Christian ethics.
– Moral principles, as of an individual: His ethics
forbade betrayal of a confidence.
– That branch of philosophy dealing with values relating
to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and
wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness
and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.
Ethical considerations and the research process
• Ethics always involves people – the research process is
no different.
• ‘Ethics is born in the presence of the other’ (Umberto
Eco in Belief or Nonbelief).
• Ethics is set within political, social, and cultural contexts
• The research process should be seen, or perhaps called
a “process of personal engagement” – between you and
others: Why, Who, What, Where, When, How
• NAPP – You should keep this in mind at all stages of the
research process: Negotiation, Access, Power, Politics
• The research process involves you making decisions at
various/critical points in the research process.
Ethical considerations and the research process
• Research design - Is the road map that we devise/design to
navigate the research journey from start to finish.
– It starts immediately that we formulation of the research problem
and questions and finishes after the dissemination of the
– The research design is the road map for us to conduct a
research study
• Methodology – Is the personal engagement with the research
environment, and is related to how we see the world through our:
– Ontological lens – what we believe in
– Epistemological lens – what we accept as valid knowledge
– Axiological lens – what our personal values are
– Conceptual framework – how we conceptualise our
problem/research issues
Ethical considerations and the research process
• Research methods - Is the way we collect data from the
research environment/field
• Findings – Is the way we deal with, and present our data
• Interpretations and discussions – Is the way we make
sense of our findings
• Conclusions – Are our claims to “truth”, new insights,
and new knowledge.
• Dissemination: Concerns where we will/are to distribute
our findings
Why do we need research ethics?
• To protect the vulnerable
• To ensure transparency
• To ensure equitable treatment of those
taking part
• To ensure that we meet our duty of care to
those we do research on/with
• To ensure we comply to National,
European, and International law, and
Some approaches to research ethics?
• Ethical positions:
– Absolutism
– Relativism
• Ethical perspectives:
Duty ethics – Deontological
Utilitarianism – Consequential
Virtue ethics – Ethic of human character
Disclosure ethics
Professional ethics
Organisational ethics
Some approaches to research ethics?
• Applied ethics:
– Medical ethics
– Business ethics
– Environmental ethics
– Animal ethics
– Social ethics
– Political ethics
What might constitute unethical practices?
• Collecting data without prior consent
• Revealing participants’’ names in reports without their
• Doing a study without first getting permission
• Abusing information provided by participant – breach of The
Equality Act 2010 (formerly DDA 2005) and DPA 1998
• Not informing parents/guardians that you are doing research
with their child(ren)
• Taking bodily samples without consent
• Damaging the environment
• Pushing respondents too far in interview/focus group
• Doing observations undercover
• Harming and inflicting pain on animals, and non-sentient
What constitutes ethical conduct?
Informed consent
Not misrepresenting anyone – written, verbally,
or via observation
Ethical research: A practical response
• Ethical decision making:
• Remember ethical decisions are always made within within political,
social, and cultural contexts
• Uses a combination of ethical perspectives:
– Duty ethics: Is my intended act the right one to take for the given
– Utilitarianism : What will be the consequences of my actions?
– Virtue ethics: Will actions and consequences of my an action
diminish, degrade, harm, and humiliate those it effects?
– Disclosure ethics: Who should I confide in to take advice
regarding my actions?
– Professional ethics: Will the action transgress my professional
responsibilities, and codes of conduct?
– Organisational ethics: Will my action result in reputational
damage for the organisation? Will my action transgress any
organisational codes of practice?
Ethical research: A practical response
• The consent form:
– Provide the identity of the researcher(s)
– Give full, and explicit information to
organisations, and those taking part in the
– Expectations of participants, and their role
– The right to withdraw consent
– Confidentiality and security of data
– Get the signature if the participant, and date –
plus research must course sign as well