Ethics refers to “the application of moral rules and professional codes of conduct to the collection, analysis, reporting, and publication of information about research subjects, in particular active acceptance of subjects' right to privacy, confidentiality, and informed consent”.
Ethics is derived from the Greek word ethos which can mean character, custom or habit. It is concerned with what is good for individuals and society and is also described as moral philosophy, promoting the aims of research, such as knowledge, truth, and avoidance of error as well as prohibitions against fabricating, falsifying, or misrepresenting research data promote the truth and minimize error.
Research often involves a great deal of cooperation and coordination among many different people in multidisciplinary teams and institutions. Therefore, ethical standards promote values that are essential to collaborative work, such as trust, accountability, mutual respect, and fairness
Research with human participants is complex. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) involves working with human subjects in the research as well as communicating research results through presentations/publications. Many institutions therefore require that the research is subject to approval by institutional Review Boards (IRB’s). Researchers are ethically compelled to consider ethical issues involved in their studies and to protect the “subject” of the research. Three ethical standards or criteria that are frequently discussed include:
Informed Consent: Research participants must be made aware of and completely understand the purpose of the research so as to make an informed decision on whether to participate or continue participating in the research. This could be in the form of a statement at the preamble of a questionnaire and may also include reasonable protection of privacy.
Right to Privacy: Research participants need to be assured that their data or responses or behavior in the study would be kept private. Data could be coded or kept anonymous in such a way that no one can connect the specific person to their data (e.g., self-administered questionnaires with no names or code numbers or identifying questions), or confidential such that few people such as the principal investigators (PI’s) can connect a specific person to their responses or actions (e.g., an interview study), but the researchers promise to keep the data private either through aggregation or destroying raw data when no longer needed.
Protection from Harm: We are obligated to protect our human participants from emotional, social and physical harm. More specifically, any potential harm must be clearly outweighed by the benefits to the participants or to society as a whole. Thus, with informed consent, we must also protect participants privacy and give them the liberty to start and or end participation in a research at any time without any retribution.
The Belmont Report is the result of over four years of meetings that began in 1976 and were conducted by the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (Commission). The Belmont Report identifies basic ethical principles for conducting research that involve human subjects and sets forth guidelines to assure these principles are followed throughout the research process.
History of the Belmont Report The need for ethical principles first arose as a result of the reported atrocities inflicted on human subjects during World War II. During the Nuremberg War Crime Trials, the Nuremberg Code was drafted that set forth standards used to judge physicians and scientists who conducted biomedical experiments on concentration camp prisoners. The Nuremberg Code set the example for subsequent codes that established rules to help protect human subjects involved in any scientific research endeavor. But these rules were found to be inadequate to cover complex situations, at times in conflict, and frequently difficult to interpret or apply. To avoid the limitations of these past codes, the Belmont Report was deliberately broader and established three basic ethical principles: 1) respect for persons, 2) beneficence, and 3) justice.