Scientific Research: Ethical Principles

Introduction

In order for the results of any scientific research to be accepted, ethical principles that are developed through different bodies of research must be followed. American psychological Association (APA, 2011) provides ethical principles that are applied in many social science studies. Other academic research bodies such as the National Academy of Science also provide ethical guidelines that should be followed by researchers from different fields such as engineering, social science and health sciences among other fields. Different research institutions have also come up with requirements that must be met by all researchers who are undertaking studies under these institutions. This paper will analyze ethical principles as laid down by Northwest University in preparation for a PHD research project.

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Ethical Principles

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is one of the most important principles in any scientific research. Students, lecturers and other researchers are expected to maintain zero rate of plagiarism in their research work. They should ensure that they produce original work in their study. According to Wendy (2010), plagiarism is threatening the quality of higher education and creating a moral dilemma in the institutions of higher learning (p.5).Therefore, in my doctoral research, I will ensure that I produce original work without any form of plagiarism. Plagiarism is a form of intellectual cheating since it involves close imitation or wrongful appropriation of somebody else work inform thoughts, language, expression or ideas and presenting them as your personal original work. In intellectual studies, plagiarism is considered to be academic fraud or high level of academic dishonesty and those who are caught in this form of crime are subjected to academic scrutiny which may lead to their expulsion from academic studies (Enghagen, 2011, p.28). Plagiarism mainly arises when authors do not properly cite all the sources used in compiling the given piece of work. Moreover, when quotations are not used and or poorly cited, it still amounts to academic theft. Hence, plagiarism may be intentional or unintentional depending on the author. However, the vice is not acceptable in academic writing, whether it was done deliberately or it happened accidently. Unintentional plagiarism arises when one is not keen in his or her writing and ends up committing careless mistake when borrowing ideas from other people’s work. By understanding how plagiarism can be committed, I will be in a position to avoid it in my project by ensuring that all ideas, expressions and opinions borrowed from other authors are cited appropriately (Walker, 2010, p.41).

In order to avoid plagiarism in my research, I will first familiarize myself with plagiarism conventions. Firstly, I will assemble and analyze all the sources of data to be used in the research study in a bid to ensure that I am familiar with authors and their details in preparation for proper citation. Secondly, I will ensure that I have fully understand the arguments and ideas of each work to be used and referenced before citing them to enable me integrate their ideas in my own words. This will help me avoid direct copying of other people’s ideas, expressions and language use pattern. Thereafter, I will ensure that there is proper recognition of other author’s work through appropriate referencing. Thirdly, in the course of my project, I will be constantly consulting my instructors when I am not sure on how to correctly cite sources or recognize writings and thoughts of other authors.

Risk assessment

Many institutions of higher learning require some risk assessment to be done before commencement of research project. This assessment may be carried out before t sign off of the proposal or after appropriate funders for the research have been found. In my research project, I will first discuss all the potential risks that I may encounter in the project with my instructor to ensure that everything is put into consideration before kicking off the project. Basically, when institutions are sponsoring or hosting a certain research project, they are held responsible and accountable for all the activities of the research. Thus they make risk assessment mandatory when they are authorizing research projects to be undertaken by different groups in their name.

Some of the institutional assessments risks include reputational damage, financial or legal liability and misconduct among others. Public reputation of the institution may be damaged when a particular institution or sponsor host a research that is not ethical according to the laid down rules and regulations or when research results lead to public hostility. The research project may also end up damaging reputation of the financiers. For instance, when the project is not completed in agreed time, budget or even when it turns out to be of poor quality. This will destroy the reputation of the funders who may feel like their funds have gone to waste. Reputational damage may also occurs when the research project end up to be an embarrassment to community of research at large. This happens when the results of the research are of poor quality, fabrication or falsification of the data thus lowering the confidence that public has towards research community.

Another area of risk assessment necessary to the institution is financial or legal liability that may result from the research project. Research participants or researchers may breach their contract with different groups involved in the research thus forcing institution hosting or sponsoring the research project to take responsibility of such actions. An insurance claim or a legal action may be taken against the institution due to irresponsibility of those who are participating in the research. Another financial liability occur when the research does not produce results as agreed with the funders or even producing poor quality results thus exposing the host institution to the financial responsibility. Finally, the reputation of the institution will still suffer when a researcher misbehave or does not uphold to professional conduct in the course of his or her research. Although the host institution may not suffer legal action against misconduct of a researcher, it may still incur costs for investigating allegations made against a researcher. For instance, senior members of staff in the given organization may spend a lot of time investigating such allegations in addition to making a decision on appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against the researcher who has not upheld the required ethics for conducting an academic research.

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In my research project, I plan to carry out a thorough risk assessment with the help of my instructors. This will ensure that all the potential areas of risks are addressed before commencement of the research. I will also seek help from my colleagues who might have undertaken a similar project in the recent past for further information on expected risks that may be encountered in this type of project. This will enable me to come up with measures to prevent occurrence of such risks. Risks such as poor quality work can be prevented by ensuring that there are proper and constant guidelines from the instructor. Personal commitment to follow research ethics will also help to avoid misconduct in the course of the research project. I will also ensure that all the participants in the research study, for instance, respondents, are quite aware of rules that guide their participations and possible consequences of breaching the given rules, regulations and general code of conduct. I will also resist the temptation of going beyond the research questions to ensure ethics are followed and maintained in the entire research project.

Informed consent

Informed consent plays an integral role in research since it is more than just pending personal signature on a piece of paper in form of writing. As Vanderpool (2009) posits, informed consent is obligatory in any academic research (p.255). A researcher must ensure that before engaging other participants in the research they are very informed of what they are doing. Informing them will ensure that they make informed decision on whether they will participate in the research or not (Cahana & Hurst, 2008, p.446). The consent ought to be given without coercion with full understanding and knowledge of what participation will go through or specific roles they will perform. The research subjects are educated before commencement of the study and also as research study continues. Researchers communicate this information through recruitments, advertisement and description sheet for the study, phone calls and written documents to the research subjects. Researchers must therefore ensure that the communicated information is fully understood by their subjects before committing themselves to participate in the study. Technical terminology should not be used in this letter and if they happen to be used, they need to be explained in a language that is polite and understandable to the research subjects (Länsimies-Antikainen, Laitinen, Rauramaa, Pietil, 2010, p.56). Subjects who do not understand the theme of the research should be informed in the language that they can fully comprehend.

In my research, I will ensure that my respondents are fully informed on the study before committing themselves to participate in the research. I will use recruitment letters to request their participation in the study which will be written in the language they can understand. In this letter, all the details about the study will be intensively and extensively explained for sufficient understanding. Any technical term that may be used in the study will be explained using the ‘layman’ language to ensure they are adequately informed before making decision whether to participate in the research or not. The recruitment letter will also seek to request them for informed consent that is freely given without any coercion. The discussion on the consent will also cover all the research procedures that enable the potential subjects to consider the benefits, costs, risks and discomfort that may result from their participation in the research.

Privacy and confidentiality

Any empirical research study will quite often depend on volunteers who voluntarily accept to give information on their beliefs, thoughts and views toward a certain topic. This implies that this information needs to be kept as private and confidential as possible. In research, privacy refers to the ability of the researcher to keep information of the participants confidential and not divulge it to the third party. Participants will usually give more information (especially personal) if they are assured that their credentials will remain confidential. When considering the confidentiality of information, researchers should focus on the following: fear of being embarrassed, real and perceived punishment that may arise from participation and the type of response used. A researcher ought to know that respondents of the study will volunteer much information when they are sure it will be handled with confidentiality. For instance, the research may be about a topic that is held as a taboo in the community. As such, the researcher needs to assure the respondents high level of confidence for them to volunteer such information. If the participant feels that his or her identity is not secure, he or she may not give all the required information.

Privacy and confidentiality will play an important role in my research project. All the data collected from participants will be treated with privacy and confidentiality. Although the study topic may not be a taboo to the society, all the participants will be assured that all the information will be held with the highest level of confidentiality. The study will create a conducive atmosphere that will enable participant to volunteer as much information as they can on the topic.

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Data handling and reporting

This entails understanding the nature of the data collected alongside the various risks and vulnerabilities. These risks involve data loss and leakage thus compromising the much needed confidentiality. Any researcher should endeavor to mitigate such risks by handling data appropriately. As explained earlier, data collected contain personal views, opinions and thoughts of the respondents. Therefore, a researcher should ensure that information is well kept where no unauthorized persons can access it. In fact some research institutions have established data safety monitoring board to ensure safety of data collected (Tereskerz, 2010, p.30).

Respondents fear what would happen if the information they have given happen to reach public or even the government. In some cases, they may give their personal views against the government or even senior individuals in the society. This means that if such information happens to leak to the government or even to such powerful individuals in the society, punitive action may be taken against the respondent. Thus it is the responsibility of the researcher to guard all the data collected from unauthorized accessibility. The researcher should also ensure that the data has been used for the purpose to which it was collected and not for any other purpose. For instance, data collected on the topic about corruption in the study should not be used when police are carrying out their investigations but should only be used to meet the objectives of the study.

In my study, I will ensure that the information collected is handled properly and all the data collected is well kept to avoid any loss. The raw data gathered from the field will be converted to an electronic mode for ease of accessibility and storage. This data will be preserved for future reference in case further research on the study topic is still required. The data collected from the study will also be guarded from any unauthorized accessibility and only the right people who will be allowed to access it. Personal views will be converted to general information where no respondents will be mentioned or even details that may reveal the person who gave the information. This will ensure that the confidentiality principle is not compromised in the process of handling the collected data. Again the collected data will only be used for the purpose for which it was collected and not for any other unintended purpose. Data collected for this purpose of the study will not be used for any other purpose such as police investigations in order to protect the privacy of the data.

Mistakes and negligence

Scientific research, similar to any other activity, is vulnerable to errors and mistakes and other forms of omissions (Farrell & Hooker, 2009, p.249). These errors occur in the process of data collection, data recording or even when the results are being analyzed and reported. The mistake may occur as a result of researcher’s negligence or even unintentional errors. Again, whether mistakes are intentional or unintentionally, they are not accepted at all in a standard scientific research. A researcher is duly expected to do all that is possible to avoid such errors in their research. Undoubtedly, researchers are directly accountable to themselves, their profession, to the general public and more so to the consumers of their products. Researchers ought to be careful and accurate as possible when they are carrying out their research. There are many factors that may lead researchers to commit mistakes. For instance, limited techniques and resources, confusing or unclear observation as well as the human nature of the researchers among others may all positively or negatively contribute to aforementioned errors and omissions. However, these should not be used as excuses upon failing to conduct an appropriate research study. There are established methods and procedures that ought to be followed in research to avoid errors. Failure to follow the prescribed guidelines will be a violation of the expected research standards. According to these rules, every scientific research ought to be adequately prepared, submitted for review and well scrutinized before it is eventually published.

In addition to honest errors, most mistakes in research happen as result of researcher’s negligence. Carrying out research in a hurry, inattention and carelessness can result to poor quality work that does not meet the expected standards. Such negligence can do a lot of harm to the research community as may end up tarnishing the reputation of the researchers (Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (U.S.), National Academy of Sciences (U.S.), National Academy of Engineering. & Institute of Medicine, 2009). Thus it is important for such errors to be avoided as much as possible in the research.

To avoid mistakes and negligence in my research, the whole study will be planned before time to give enough time for each and every activity. For instance, data collection in the field will be allocated sufficient time to ensure that it is not done in a hurry. Secondly, I will stick to the recommended practice and methods of carrying out scientific research to avoid and minimize any honest errors. This will also assure me of high quality results. Thirdly, I will also pay attention to each and every detail to minimize chances of making careless mistakes that may result from negligence. Finally, I will consult my instructors in case of any confusing observation that happen in the course of research since observation errors are common in research (Chen, Huang, Kuo & Sokolovskiy, 2011, p.853).

Working with a Mentor

For effective academic research, working with a proficient mentor is an important requirement that cannot be underestimated. A research mentor or a supervisor is necessary even before you start your research since he or she may be more knowledgeable on the field one intends to study, thus may offer invaluable assistance in the choice of research topic. A proficient mentor in research enhances the quality of research by guiding the researcher throughout the research period (Wright, Titus & Cornelison, 2008, p.323). Some important concepts may not be easily understood by reading background literature and therefore a proficient mentor will introduce the researcher to such concepts. This will improve the quality of the research since the researcher can approach the topic from a broader perspective. A researcher ought to ensure that he or she chooses the right mentor for the intended research project. A proficient mentor should have sufficient knowledge and insight about the topic to be studied. In addition a good reputation is necessary as well as sufficient time to supervise the research to ensure that the results of the research have met the required standards (Cox & Andriot, 2010, p.31). A mentor with good reputation will enhance acceptability of the research findings in the research community.

Northcentral University requirements for IRB approval

The University has committed itself to comply with the federal regulations in stipulating protection and ethical treatment of all animal and human participants in research. The institutional review board of the university is given the mandate of ensuring that all the research hosted by the university meets these requirements (Hamburger, 2007, p.405). The IRB must review all the research projects that will involve human subjects to ensure they have adhered to the laid rules and regulations before their board approval( Cook & Hoas, 2011, p.14)The rules require that no vulnerable member of the population will be involved in the research. Vulnerable participants may include mentally ill persons, children, criminal, pregnant women among other groups (Wright, Titus& Cornelison, 2008). The research will also be required to meet other requirements such as risk assessment, stable financiers, and mentors among others before IRB its approval.

Hence, in my research project, I will ensure compliance with the requirements of the IRB for the approval of the project. For instance, no vulnerable persons will be involved in the research and all human subjects involved in the study will be treated with the respect they deserve.

Conclusion

Ethical principles are mandatory in any scientific research and researchers need to follow the established guidelines by different research institutions for their research to meet the required standards. Before the research is approved by institutional review boards of different research institutions, it must be conducted in accordance with all the ethical principles that are also provided by the federal government. All the research studies that entail human and animal participants must be conducted in a manner that respects the dignity of the research subjects. These ethical standards include informed consent of the participant, plagiarism avoidance, impeccable data collection, recording and analysis to minimize common research errors and mistakes, careful handling of data, highest level of privacy and confidentiality, research mentorship and a thorough assessment of all the possible risks that are anticipated in the research. This should also involve all strategies undertaken to minimize the effects of such risks.

Scientific researchers are equally expected to be responsible and accountable to all those who are involved. This can be both directly and indirectly. These groups may include participants/respondents who give their time and lives to the success of the research project, advisors and mentors, future readers, reviewers, cheerleaders and supporters who have participated in the research. Scientific researchers are expected to practice the highest level of standards when they are dealing with all these groups. The finding of the research will affect the whole society in one way or the other and therefore cautions should be exercised by the researcher to ensure that he or she does not tarnish the reputation of the scientists. High levels of ethics are encouraged among all the researchers particularly when dealing with human subject or animals. Vulnerable population should never be involved in any scientific research to avoid any case that may violate ethics and moral principles of the research. To recap it all, scientific researchers should follow all the rules and regulations as stipulated by the government and different research institutions.

References

American Psychological Association (2011). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct Standard 8: Research and Publication.

Cahana, A. & Hurst, A. (2008). Voluntary Informed Consent in Research and Clinical Care: An Update. Pain Practice, 8(6), 446-451.

Chen, S., Huang, C., Kuo, Y. & Sokolovskiy, S. (2011).Observational error estimation of formosat-3/cosmic GPS radio occultation data. Monthly Weather Review, 139(3), 853-865.

Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (U.S.), National Academy of Sciences (U.S.), National Academy of Engineering., & Institute of Medicine (2009) on being a scientist: A guide to responsible conduct in research, (3rd Ed.). Washington, D.C: National Academies Press. Web.

Cook, A. & Hoas, H. (2011). Protecting Research Subjects: IRBs in a Changing Research Landscape. IRB: Ethics & Human Research, 33(2), 14-19.

Cox, F. & Andriot, A. Mentor and Undergraduate Student Comparisons of Students’ Research Skills. (2010). Journal of STEM Education: Innovations & Research, 10(1), 31-39.

Enghagen, K. (2011). Plagiarism: Intellectual Dishonesty, Violation of Law, or Both? Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Education, 23(1), 28-35.

Farrell, P. & Hooker, C. A. (2009). Error, Error-Statistics and Self-Directed Anticipative Learning.Foundations of Science, 14(4), 249-271.

Hamburger, P. (2007). Getting Permission. Northwestern University Law Review, Special Issue, 101(2), 405-492.

Laitinen, T., Rauramaa, R. Pietil, A. & Länsimies-Antikainen, H. (2010). Evaluation of informed consent in health research: a questionnaire survey. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 24(1), 56-64.

Tereskerz, M. (2010). Data Safety Monitoring Boards: Legal and Ethical Considerations for Research Accountability. Accountability in Research: Policies & Quality Assurance, 17(1), 30-50.

Vanderpool, Y. (2009). Chapter 7: Informed consent and xenotransplantation clinical trials. Xenotransplantation, 16(4), 255-262.

Walker, J. (2010). measuring plagiarism: researching what students do, not what they say they do Studies in Higher Education, 35(1), 41-59.

Wendy, S. (2010). Retribution, deterrence and reform: the dilemmas of plagiarism management in universities. Journal of Higher Education Policy & Management, 32(1), 5-16.

Wright, E., Titus L., & Cornelison, B. (2008). Mentoring and Research Misconduct: An Analysis of Research Mentoring in Closed ORI Cases. Science & Engineering Ethics, 14(3), 323-336.

Scientific Research: Ethical Principles
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