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Chapter 18

 

 

ETHICAL AND LEGAL ASPECTS OF RESEARCH

 

 

Weighing the Benefits and Risks of Conducting Research

The principle benefits for conducting research is that they will learn about the research process. In such cases, it seems defensible only to carry out research that poses no potential risk to the subjects of the study.

       In cases where the purpose of conducting research is to generate knowledge rather than to learn about the research process, however, it is frequently necessary to confront the issue of how much possible risk is justifiable given the importance of the knowledge to be gained

      Once the decision is made to conduct research, however, the researcher is responsible for maintaining ethical standards throughout the entire project and for making sure that subjects receive ethical treatment from anyone who may be assisting in the project.

         Research in education sometimes involves providing students in an experimental group with strategies the researcher has reason to believe, the researcher has the ethical responsibility of making sure that students who were in the control group are later provided with the same strategies.

 

Informed Consent

  Subjects who participate in a research project should give their informed consent to do so. except under  circumstances to be described later, you should not initiate a study of your own unless you have received the subjects’ permission to do so.

       From an ethical perspective it is desirable to inform prospective subjects’ about the nature of the research, particularly those aspects of the study that may affect their decision to participate or not.

       It is not unusual to find situations in which providing subjects with information about the nature of the research can affect the results of the study. A particular difficult issue is deciding how much information it is ethical to withhold from subjects in order not to affect the outcome of the study. For example, if the length of time subjects will spend participating in the study is particularly long, should they be told so before they consent to participate?

       The increasing use of qualitative methods in educational research has led to new ethical concerns. Consider, for example, the issue of informed consent as it applies to ethnographic studies. Quantitative researchers can provide subjects with reasonably accurate information about what participation in a study will entail before they consent to participate an ethnographic researcher cannot. Because the objectives of ethnographic research usually evolve as the study progresses, often researchers can only inform potential subjects in general terms rather than in precise detail what participation in the study will entail.

 

Concealment and deception

Deciding to withhold information from subjects is sometimes referred to as concealment . Concealment occurs when a researcher tells subjects the truth, but not the  whole truth. More troublesome than concealment is the use of deception , in which the researcher purposely provides subjects with false information. Deception may be used for several purposes:

(1)   to encourage people to participate in a study,

(2)   to camouflage the true objective or a study, or

(3)   as a part of the research procedure itself.

 

       Sometimes deception is used to achieve a desired experimental effect. Suppose one is interested in examining gifted students’ reactions to academic failure.  Since it is unlikely that gifted students experience much academic failure, a researcher might  administer an examination to the students and then tell them they had failed even though they had not. In this way the researcher could investigate how gifted students react when they believe they have failed academically.

       Some researchers believe the use of deception so flagrantly violates the basic principle of an open and honest relationship between the researcher and the participant that they would consider any use of deception unethical. Since your primary purpose in carrying out an investigation is to learn about the  research questions that involve deception or concealment.

 

Additional Precautions When using Deception

Other researchers believe that under certain circumstances the potential benefits of a study may outweigh the use of deception particularly if additional conditions are satisfied. For instance, the use of deception may be justified if the researcher :

(a)    Explains to the subjects at the conclusion of the study why it was necessary to use deception;

(b)   Has reason to believe that when told of the deception, the subjects will finds its use reasonable.

 

Dehoaxing and Desensitization

Two other conditions that may make the use of deception more ethically acceptable are dehoaxing and desensitization . Dehaxing is the process by which the researcher makes sure after the completion of the study that subjects fully understand that they have been deceived, so that no permanent damage can be done to the subjects. For example, after having informed gifted students that they were falsely told they had failed an examination, one should show the students the actual scores they made.

       Desensitization is the process of dealing with behaviors subjects may have displayed during an experiment that might cause them  to feel negatively about themselves. Subjects who have participated in a study investigating conditions under which cheating behavior may occur, for example, may feel guilty for having cheated. The researcher has the obligation to help subjects eliminate their feelings of guilt. The researcher may accomplish this by explaining that it is the nature of the experimental situation that causes honest people to cheat and that most other subjects in the study also cheated.

 

 

 

 

The use of Volunteers

Ideally in conducting research one would like all of the prospective subjects to participate in the study voluntarily. What are the consequences, however, if some subjects either refuse to participate or, after having completed part of the study, decide they do not wish to continue participating? To what extent is it ethical to exert pressure on subjects to participate against their will? The refusal of some prospective subjects to participate in a study limits the generalizability of the study’s findings to the population of people who would voluntarily agree to participate in the study.

       Students who are conducting research for the purpose of leaning about the research process should carry out studies only with people who volunteer to participate. It is only when research is being conducted to generate new knowledge  that the question of generalizing the findings becomes important.

 

 

Special Concerns for Educators Conducting Research with Students.

Extra care must betaken to make sure that students who volunteer to participate in a study are not doing so because they are afraid that if they don’t, they may anger the researcher (i.e., the authority figure) who may hold their refusal against them in the future.

       It would also be unethical to reward students for participating in a study with special favors that impinge on other aspects of the student’s role as student. For example, it would be unethical to reward students who agree to participate in a study by giving them higher grades or excusing them from homework assignments.

 

 

Protection from Physical Danger and Mental Stress

Subjects may feel ashamed or embarrassed when asked to provide certain kinds of information about themselves or their families, such as how they feel about their siblings or parents. The researcher must try to anticipate aspects of the study that may be psychologically stressful for subjects and, if necessary, terminate the study unless there are compelling reasons for continuing.

 

Researcher Responsibilities at the Conclusion of a Study

After a study has been completed, the researcher has the obligation to inform subjects as fully as possible about the nature of the research. In addition to telling subjects about any uses of deception, the researcher should explain why the study was carried out and what role the subject played in the study.

 

 

Anonymity and Confidentiality

Anonymity means that the researcher does not know who the participants in as study are. Confidentiality means that the researcher knows who the participants are but will not divulge their names. Although anonymity is not possible in all studies, confidentiality is, and it is the researcher’s responsibility to make sure that confidentiality is maintained. Researchers should not only inform subjects that information obtained during the course of a study will be treated confidentially, but take active measures to make sure that it is.

       Keep subjects anonymous by assigning them a code number. It is sometimes easy for data sheets containing information about subjects to be seen by people who have no right to know the information. Compiling information by code number rather than by the subject’s name  reduces the likelihood that private information will be inadvertently revealed.

       The issue of confidentiality applies not only to the  individuals who participate in a study but also to places, such as institutions where the date were collected. When writing a final report about the study, it is best not to mention institutions by name. it is informative enough to the reader of a report to learn that data were collected from a public elementary school in a particular kind of socioeconomic area.

 

 

 

Thu, 12 May 2011 @13:03

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