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Research and Sociology What are the Ethics of Research?

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1 Research and Sociology What are the Ethics of Research?

2 Code of Ethics Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association (CSAA) Statements of Professional Ethics published in 1994

3 Examples from Code Organizing and initiating research 4. Codes of professional ethics arise from the need to protect vulnerable or subordinate populations from harm incurred, knowingly or unknowingly, by the intervention of researchers into their lives and cultures. Sociologists and anthropologists have a responsibility to respect the rights, and be concerned with the welfare, of all the vulnerable and subordinate populations affected by their work…

4 Examples continued… Protecting people in the research environment 12. Researchers must respect the rights of citizens to privacy, confidentiality and anonymity, and not to be studied. Researchers should make every effort to determine whether those providing information wish to remain anonymous or to receive recognition and then respect their wishes…

5 Examples continued… Informed consent 15. Researchers must not expose respondents to risk of personal harm. Informed consent must be obtained when the risks of research are greater than the risks of everyday life… Convert research and deception 20. Subjects should not be deceived if there is any reasonably anticipated risk to the subjects or if the harm cannot be offset or the extent of the harm be reasonably predicted.

6 Right to Know vs. Right to Privacy Does the right to know outweigh the right to privacy? Who has the right to make these types of judgments? The researcher is often the one who makes the critical ethical decisions. Therefore, sociologists and other investigators bear the responsibility for establishing clear and sensitive boundaries for ethical scientific research.

7 Example: Zellner Sociologist William Zellner (1978) wanted to learn whether fatal car crashes are sometimes suicides disguised as accidents in order to protect family and friends. Or perhaps to collect otherwise unredeemable insurance benefits. Potential acts of autocide Zellner found that research on automobile accidents in which fatalities occur poses an ethical issue – the right to know against the right to privacy

8 Zellner’s research Interview friends, co-workers, and family members of deceased Looking for info to help him ascertain whether the deaths were accidental or deliberate Told the people he approached that his goal was to contribute to a reduction of future accidents by learning about the emotional characteristics of accident victims. Made no mention of his suspicions of autocide (feared people wouldn’t meet him)

9 Zellner’s conclusions Concluded that at least 12 percent of all fatal single-occupant crashes are suicides Info could be valuable for society, since some of the probable suicides actually killed or critically injured innocent bystanders in the process

10 Ethical Questions of Zellner’s work Was the research unethical because he misrepresented the motives of his study and failed to obtain his subjects’ informed consent? Was his deception justified by the social value of his findings?

11 Answers are not Apparent Appeared to have admirable motives Took great care in protecting confidentiality. Did not reveal names of suspected suicides to insurance companies Did recommend that the insurance industry drop double indemnity

12 Additional Ethical Issue The possibility of harm to those who were interviewed??? Questions Zellner asked: If the deceased had “talked about suicide” If they had spoken of how “bad or useless” they were Could these questions have led people to guess the true intentions of the research? Might the study have caused the bereaved to suspect suicide – when before the survey they had accepted the deaths as accidental?

13 Preserving Confidentiality Like journalists, sociologists occasionally find themselves subject to questions from law enforcement authorities or to legal threats because of knowledge they have gained in conducting research and maintaining confidentiality. This situation raises profound ethical questions.

14 Russell Ogden Simon Fraser University Conducted interviews with people involved with assisted suicide or euthanasia among people with AIDS Coroner subpoenaed Ogden to identify his sources Ogden refused citing a promise of “absolute confidentiality” Initially found in contempt but later accepted a common law argument that the communications between Ogden and his participants were priviledged.

15 Neutrality and Politics in Research The ethical considerations of sociologists lie not only in the methods they use but also in the way they interpret results. Weber recognized that personal values would influence the questions that sociologists select for research. But under no conditions could a researcher allow his or her personal feelings to influence the interpretation of data.

16 Value Neutrality Researchers have an ethical obligation to accept research findings even when the data run counter to their own personal views, to theoretically based explanations, or to widely accepted beliefs. Some sociologist believed it is impossible and believe the public should not accept research results at face value but investigate the biases of the researchers.


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