PEHL 557

Class Notes

Ethical Issues in Research

It is okay to make mistakes but not okay to try to conceal them!

Student Learning Outcomes

At the completion of this unit of instruction students will be able to:

  1. Provide examples of plagiarism (failure to properly acknowledge contribution of others)
  2. Explain how falsification can be intentional and unintentional (making up versus making errors)
  3. Explain why researchers may be motivate to not publish some of their data (exceptions should not be ignored)
  4. Give examples of ways in which faulty data-gathering procedures can occur (calibration, different instructions, different protocols, etc.)
  5. Explain the need to store data safely for possible review (replication may become an issue)
  6. Explain problems associated with misleading authorship (credit where credit is due)
  7. Describe proper publication practices (avoiding sneeky practices!)
  8. Describe an example illustrating the importance of ethical considerations when conducting research and the appropriate procedures to be followed.

Seven areas of scientific dishonesty

1. Plagiarism

2. Fabrication and falsification

3. Nonpublication of data

4. Faulty data-gathering procedures

5. Poor data storage and retention

6. Misleading authorship

7. Sneaky publication practices

Q: What is plagiarism?

A: Using other people's work without acknowledging their contribution

Q: What would be considered fabrication or falsification?

A: Anything that is made up and did not really occur, e.g. overstating numbers of subjects, changing data, including personal biases (especially in qualitative studies), misinterpreting literature (often occurs that students misquote authors - be careful).

Q: Nonpublication of data means that the researchers did what? (no peeking...)

A: Data was supressed. It is not ethical to ignore exceptions and just try to explain to oneself the reason for the exception. Finding nothing of significance is just as important as finding something of significance.

Q: How can faulty data-gathering procedures occur?

A: If machines are not calibrated correctly, if subjects do not follow procedures correctly, if untrained research assistants are used (may give different instructions), if testing occurs at different times of the day. Others?

Q: Why is poor data storage and retention unethical?

A: Because it should be available for verification by others.

Q: Misleading authorship occurs when...?

A: People take credit who really make very little contribution to the study. If fellow graduate students assist you they should not expect to be named should you eventually publish the results of your study. The same is true with faculty advisors unless they have made a significant contribution to the study (which often occurs!). Bottom line is not to take credit for things you did not do!

Q: And related to the above, sneaky publication practices occur when the relationship between research directors (professors often), and research assistants (graduate students often) is not clear. Also it is genrally not considered ethical to submit a paper to more than one publication, and certainly not to accept publication in more than one journal!

Ethical Issues Regarding Copyright

You need permission to use figures and tables from other published sources. Quotes are okay if properaly referenced. Usually it is no problem getting permission for educational purposes.

Model for Considering Scientific Misconduct

Bottom line is that bad things may happen to you if you are intentionally unethical. The Golden Rule is pretty good advice.

Working with Faculty

If you don't already have a faculty advisor you should be actively looking for one. This person should assist in the development of your program as well as with your research study. You should recognize that being an advisor carries no financial reward. Faculty do not receive time off for the hours they might spend assisting you. In short it is often an extra responsibility. You should not therefore think that all you need to do is identify someone you would like to work with, then let them know you've picked them (as if it was quite an honor!). You need to meet with faculty, share your interest, and try to assess their interest. It will probably be evident if you appear to share interests. The motivation for faculty to be involved with graduate studies is the opportunity to learn and stay current with one's teaching field, and also the possibility of future publications and presentations.

Protecting Human Subjects

It's important to consider any ethical issues affecting the subjects of your study.

Q. How might concerns about ethics affect your research? Examples?

Approval from an institutional review panel is required in many instances regarding proposed treatments . For example, at CWU there is a required approval process through the graduate school for any research involving humans. If you plan to conduct some type of experimental research get the appropriate forms from the graduate school.

Requiring approval makes sense in view of the various types of questions people are interested in investigating and the potential for harming subjects. If you watched the first "Ghostbusters" movie you'll remember the opening scenes of a psychology experiment that involved using an electric shock as a form of negative reinforcement. Many past psychology experiments have involved investigations of human behavior that necessitated the use of deception.

Example: Some years ago a woman was attacked, raped, and killed on a New York street. Not unusual you think? Well, the difference in this instance was that the crime occurred in daylight on a busy street. No one came to the victim's assistance. The outcry of the incident motivated researchers to attempt to explain the non-reaction of passersby. Various theories were proposed, one of which concerned the apparent unwillingness of people to respond to cries of help when in groups. In comparison, a person would be much more likely to help if alone and clearly the sole source of help. To investigate this idea researchers had to set up various scenarios to evaluate subject's responses. Some trickery was required.

In one experiment a subject was called to an office supposedly to be interviewed for the study. The subject was left in a waiting room unaware that he was being observed and already participating in the experiment. From an adjoining room various scenarios were played out attempting to get the subject to respond. For example, in one instance the experimenters pretended to be quarreling, then fighting, and cries for help were made. In another experiment, smoke was directed under the door with the intent of showing that there was a fire in the next room. The investigators were interested in subjects' responses. How long would it take before they did something? What would they do? And most especially, how would their responses change if another person (a member of the experimental team) was also in the room and refused to do anything to help.

As you can imagine, for some subjects this proved to be a traumatic experience. The experiment risked embarrassment and emotional trauma in view of subjects' concerns about what they had apparently experience. In situations such as these it was essential that experimenters were required to act responsibly and put the subjects at ease following completion of their participation.

Q. In your text a number of subjects' rights were listed. What were they and why important?

A. 1. Right to privacy or non participation (Don't snoop or ask unnecessary information, always get parental approval in studies involving children, etc.)

2. Right to anonymity (Use #s to identify subjects or change names)

3. Right to confidentiality (Who will have access to the data? It should not be available for use outside of the agreement made with the subjects)

4. Right to expect experimenter responsibility (Be honest if possible, but if you have to mislead people be sure to debrief them immediately after their participation)

In many instances you will be expected to have subjects indicate an awareness of specific risks involved in your study by completing an "Informed Consent." This type of form is frequently used PEHLS studies requiring physical activity from subjects. It is important to use a form that has received some type of approval (legal or institutional) rather than attempting to make up your own form which will probably not be legally defensible.

Protecting Animal Subjects

Be aware that there are guidelines you must follow if you plan on using animals. Each instituion - just as with human subjects - requires you to get permission before using animals and to follow certain guidelines.


(Revised 2/10/99)



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