Ethical Considerations

RR graphic - no words.jpgEthical Considerations in Quantitative Research

Ethical considerations for quantitative research will be examined in this module.

Learning Objectives:

  • Describe why adhering to ethical principles is important in research.
  • Explain the specific ethical issues to consider in quantitative research.
  • List the core ethical principles that should guide the researcher’s actions in quantitative research.
  • Describe the purpose and function of the Institutional Review Board.

 

Ethical considerations in research are critical. Ethics are the norms or standards for conduct that distinguish between right and wrong. They help to determine the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors on the part of the researcher. Why are ethical considerations so important in research? The integrity, reliability and validity of the research findings rely heavily on adherence to ethical principles. The readers and the public want to be assured that researchers followed the appropriate guidelines for issues such as human rights, animal welfare, compliance with the law, conflicts of interest, safety, health standards and so on. The handling of these ethical issues greatly impact the integrity of the research project and can affect whether or not the project receives funding.

Because ethical considerations are so important in research, many professional associations and agencies have adopted codes and policies that outline ethical behavior and guide researchers. These codes address issues such as honesty, objectivity, respect for intellectual property, social responsibility, confidentiality, non-discrimination and many others. These codes and policies provide basic guidelines, but researchers will still be faced with additional issues that are not specifically addressed and this will require decision-making on the part of the researcher in order to avoid misconduct. The resources on this page address many of those issues and the case studies used in these resources provide excellent examples of these types of issues.

Ethical issues are important in all types of research. Regardless of the type of research, the researcher should take into consideration both general research principles and those that are more specific to the type of research. In quantitative research, ethical standards prevent against such things as the fabrication or falsifying of data and therefore, promote the pursuit of knowledge and truth which is the primary goal of research. It is also important to protect research participants and follow the guiding foundation of “do no harm” if human subjects are utilized in the study.

To address these considerations, most institutions and organizations have developed an Institutional Review Board (IRB). An IRB is a panel of people who help to ensure the safety of human subjects in research and who assist in making sure that human rights are not violated. They review the research methodology in grant proposals to assure that ethical practices are being utilized. The use of an IRB also helps to protect the institution and the researchers against potential legal implications from any behavior that may be deemed unethical.

Examples of some of these issues include voluntary participation and informed consent. These principles are followed to guarantee that all human subjects are choosing to participate of their own free will and that they have been fully informed regarding the procedures of the research project and any potential risks. Potential participants must be competent to make a decision regarding participation and must be free from any coercion. The consent may be given in a written or oral form depending on the nature of the research. Ethical standards also protect the confidentiality and anonymity of the subjects. Researchers should not share information between participants and should have procedures in place to protect the data and names of participants.

Dr. Jaap van Harten, the Executive Publisher of Elsevier, shares insights about research and publishing ethics, data manipulation, plagiarism, publication duplication, and the consequences of scientific misconduct. The Elsevier webpage offers a series of short videos in its Ethics Toolkit that address a variety of issues related to ethics in quantitative research. Following are two videos from that series that highlight key issues in quantitative research: data manipulation and figure falsification in publishing. To view more videos in the series, go to Elsevier Ethics Toolkit.  

Suggested Readings:

  • Creswell, J. W. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage publications.
  • Johnson, B., & Christensen, L. (2008). Educational research: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed approaches. Sage.
  • Jones, K. (2000). A regrettable oversight or a significant omission? Ethical considerations in quantitative research in education. In, Helen Simons and Robin Usher (eds.) Situated Ethics in Educational Research. Routledge.
  • Neuman, W. L., & Robson, K. (2004). Basics of social research. Pearson.
  • Panter, A. T., & Sterba, S. K. (Eds.). (2011). Handbook of ethics in quantitative methodology. Taylor & Francis.
  • Punch, K. F. (2013). Introduction to social research: Quantitative and qualitative approaches. Sage.
  • Simons, H., & Usher, R. (Eds.). (2000). Situated ethics in educational research. Psychology Press.

Resource Links

Quantitative Research - The following link provides a discussion of the process of designing quantitative research and the steps necessary to ensure that there will be no ethical violations.

What is an IRB and its Purpose? - What does IRB stand for? What is the purpose of an IRB and how does a researcher know when they need to use it?

Ethics in Research – The Web Center for Social Research Methods - Some of the key terminology associated with research ethics are described on this site, as well as a brief history of ethical considerations in research.

What is Ethics in Research & Why is it Important - Ethical concerns must also be considered when designing a research project. The following website discusses common codes and policies regarding ethics in research.

Ethical Issues in Conducting Research – The following link is PDF that offers a comprehensive discussion of ethical issues in conducting research.


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