Most researchers may be wondering why they need extensive training in research ethics. Why is research ethics even important?
You already know the difference between what’s right and wrong. You’re honest and won’t fabricate, plagiarize or falsify research data.
You also believe your research team members know research ethics and are honest. You don’t see any issue with your proposed research plan from an ethical standpoint.
The truth is this. No one is questioning you or your team members’ ethical standards. It is only normal to discuss the ethical side of every research even before work commences.
However, reports on research conducted over the last 200 years indicate several confirmed cases of ethical misconduct. And some of these were federally funded projects.
Cases of misconduct in the last two centuries may also have been underreported. The figures may be higher.
So, what is ethics in research, and why is it so crucial in research? Let’s discuss this in detail.
What Research Ethics Is
Firstly, what is ethics? It refers to the moral principles that govern the conduct of certain activities or a person’s behavior.
Now, what’s research ethics? It includes guidelines provided for the responsible conduct of research. The aim is to ensure research results aren’t falsified or altered.
Research ethics seek to educate and monitor scientists to maintain high ethical standards.
Ethical misconduct poses a considerable risk. It can lead to severe harm or death of people. An excellent example of why research ethics is relevant is Paolo Macchiarini’s case.
Macchiarini was a surgeon who became popular for research he claimed was a massive breakthrough for organ transplants.
What was Macchiarini’s so-called revolutionized organ transplant about? The Italian surgeon utilized synthetic scaffolds that he claimed to have seeded with his patients’ stem cells. The result was to create trachea transplants.
Unfortunately, it was evident that the experiments he conducted had no solid preclinical research foundation. Nine patients received Macchiarini’s transplant, but seven died.
What did the investigation into Paolo Macchiarini’s scientific publication reveal?
Well, it shows the value ethics have in research. There were revelations of ethical misconduct. Macchiarini had fabricated results in his scientific publications and reports to make the treatment seem successful.
What happened to Paolo Macchiarini after his failed surgical transplants?
Macchiarini’s ethical blunder bruised the ego of the highly reputable Karolinska Institute of Stockholm, Sweden, as they were his employers then. The institute had no choice but to dismiss him. Several authorities also resigned from the institute following the incident.
So, you can see why ethics in research is vital. It would have prevented the death of many people who got the transplant. Paolo Macchiarini would also have retained his job and reputation.
A Handy Tip: In 2019, an Italian court found Dr. Paolo Macchiarini guilty of fabricating research results and sentenced him to 16 years in prison. His research papers and reports have also been taken down.
Why Is Ethics In Research Important?
Paolo Macchiarini’s failed experiment is a good reason why ethics is vital in research. If he had adhered to research ethics, he probably would have tackled every facet of the study.
Macchiarini didn’t consider his patient’s post-surgery conditions. He only painted a rosy picture to make his research look attractive.
But one thing researchers must never forget is this. There are consequences of ethical misconduct. You can falsify your data, but the outcome will expose you.
So, why is ethics in research so important?
#1: Promotes moral and social values:
Ethical norms in research promote moral and social values. These include human rights, social responsibility, compliance with the law, animal welfare, including public health and safety.
Encouraging ethical misconduct in research is a considerable risk. Why? It might cause significant harm to animals, including human subjects, the public, and students.
We can repeat Dr. Paolo Macchiarini’s incident on and on. The data he fabricated during clinical trials harmed and killed several patients.
There are researchers like Macchiarini out there today. Dozens of researchers commit ethical lapses, but many go unnoticed and unpunished.
Researchers that fail to adhere strictly to guidelines and regulations relating to biological or radiation safety will have themselves to blame. They’ll only jeopardize their health and other people’s safety.
#2: Promotes the principal aim of research works:
What is the reason scientists engage in research? Is it for profit or fame?
All these benefits might come if the research is successful. But they’re not the basis for the research work.
The aim or reason people conduct research is for truth, knowledge, and avoidance of error. Research gives room for more research, leading to advancement in the said field or subject.
However, prohibiting the falsification, fabrication, or misrepresentation of research data encourages truth and reduces error.
#3: Promotes value vital for collaborative work:
Researchers don’t conduct research alone. Research work often entails collaborative effort. What values are crucial for a corporation or collaborative work in research to take place?
The values include accountability, trust, fairness, and mutual respect.
Here is an example. In research, several ethical norms exist. These include guidelines for patenting policies, copyright, authorship, and data-sharing policies.
These are designed to help protect intellectual property interests and encourage collaborations.
Many researchers are eager to receive credit for their contributions. They don’t want their ideas to get stolen or prematurely disclosed.
#4: Ensures researchers are held accountable:
Ethical norms are vital in research. It helps ensure researchers are accountable to the public.
So, there’s a need for federal policy-makers to address issues relating to research misconduct, human subject protections, conflicts of interest, and animal care.
For the record, most researchers are funded with the public’s money. The policy will ensure researchers in this category are held accountable to the public.
#5: Builds public support for research work:
Would you be comfortable spending your money on poor-quality research? That’s not possible.
The truth is this. Many people will be more than willing to fund research work if they trust the researcher and the quality of work.
So, you can see that the benefits of ethics in research are vast. But then, ethical misconduct where researchers falsify data is dangerous. We cannot overemphasize this enough.
Therefore, if you’re a researcher, strive to deliver quality research. Don’t waste your time researching if the plan is to falsify data in the end. Many lives would be lost, and you’ll be accused and persecuted at the end of the day.
Let’s take a quick look at ethical principles researchers should adhere to when conducting research.
Ethical Principles in Research
These are ethical principles guiding research. If you’re a researcher, please do well to follow them.
Be honest when stating research methods, procedures, or reporting data or results. Avoid any urge to falsify data or methodology. It could come back to haunt you.
Keep to your agreements and promises. Let your actions and thoughts remain consistent.
You have to be open to suggestions, new ideas, and criticisms (whether constructive or not). Be open to yourself, collaborators, and the public. Share data, resources, tools, and ideas.
Do not expose confidential records. These include classified military secrets, trade, patient records, and other personnel records you had the privilege to use.
Respect intellectual property:
Honor copyrights, patents, and other intellectual property forms. Seek permission before using unpublished results, data or procedures.
Don’t leave students to work on research projects alone. Be there to advise, educate and monitor them. However, don’t make decisions for them. Only provide suggestions where needed and allow them to make the final decision.
Just because you’re heading the research doesn’t mean you have to belittle other researchers. Show respect and love, as they are crucial in collaborative works like research.
What is ethics in research, and why is it important? The truth is there’s no research without ethics.
Researchers must abide by ethical norms or risk producing questionable research results. Ethics in research is crucial for many reasons. They help promote the value required for collaborative work, promote the research aim, and ensure researchers are accountable to the public.
Keep in mind that ethical misconduct can pose a significant risk to our environment and the lives of humans, including animals.