My initial forum post on Research Ethics:
Research Ethics and Integrity
Reflecting on the call for researchers to observe ethics oddly reminds me of analogous discussions regarding the biblical command for people to love their enemies: Christ’s followers are commanded to do so precisely because loving one’s enemy takes effort and intention; it is of course so much easier and even natural to hate back those who hate you. (Conversely, there is neither point nor need in giving a command to “love those who love you.”) Researchers are similarly urged to observe ethics because their self-serving inclination — or even for those with noble intentions, the need/desire to serve a cause through a research undertaking — will almost always naturally take precedence over all other considerations throughout the process of designing, implementing and writing up a research. Serious researchers would be instinctively inclined to do whatever it takes to obtain needed data, while students feeling merely obliged to undertake research would tend to seek the easiest and most convenient means to get it over and done with.
Appreciation for the need to observe research ethics entails seeing (and valuing) how it is tied to ensuring personal and professional integrity, as manifested in the integrity of the purpose, the process and the results of one’s research undertaking. “Integrity” in itself is a big word, which I believe encompasses the rationale, and can serve as a test, for the observance of research ethics. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “integrity” as “an unimpaired condition,” “soundness” and “completeness.” Dictionary.com further defines it as “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished,” All these definitions point to qualities that any researcher should desire for his work, and can apparently be achieved not merely through the use of the most technically meritable methodologies and tools, but substantially through the “adherence to moral and ethical principles” and abidance by principles of “incorruptibility” — both of which being further definitions of “integrity” from Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com, respectively.
A researcher, then, who is concerned with his own integrity as defined above can test every single step and aspect of his research effort against the same definitions. Still following the principle of integrity, one cannot compromise any aspect of a research. This may be quite tricky for most researchers including those of us in the development field, who may argue that “the end justifies the means” or that the common good (or an anticipated beneficial result for many) takes primacy over the seemingly minor inconveniences/violations that a community or a few people may experience in the course of a research.A key to strict adherence to research ethics, particularly for social workers, is adherence as well to the definitional elements of the social work profession.*
*I included a link to the International Federation of Social Workers – Definition of Social Work.