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IM Course Guide

Ethical Considerations in Social Science Research

What are Ethical Guidelines?

Social research imposes upon people’s lives, and requires standards to define what is allowable and what is not allowable in conducting this research.  Ethics define what we consider to be right, and what we consider to be wrong. They give a moral judgement or value to an action. 

Ethical guidelines are used in guiding how to design a study, conduct a study, and disseminate results.

Ethical Considerations

The Belmont Report outlines three internationally accepted ethical principles.

1. Respect (Willing participation, adequately informed)
2. Beneficence (Do no harm)
3. Justice (Right to withdraw, burdens and benefits equally distributed).

The Canadian government has also enshrined these ethical values in research policy.

Ethical Dilemmas

Ethical dilemmas exist when more than one course of action is possible, but none is harmless.  Ethical dilemmas are everywhere!

Institutional Ethical Guidelines vs. Legislation

Not Legal
It is both legal and ethical to protect subject confidentiality.
It is not legal, but may be considered ethical, to report confidential research indicating political malfeasance.
Not Ethical
It is legal, but may not be ethical, to maintain confidentiality when research indicates that political malfeasance has occurred.
It is neither legal nor ethical to expose confidential research results for personal gain.
If a researcher is legally sanctioned (punished) for unethical behaviour it is not because they have violated an institution’s ethical guidelines, but because they have broken the law.
Actions that are legal, but unethical, are regulated by an institutional set of research guidelines.

Famously (Ethically) Questionable Research