SOC234 2017 Lab11 – Bega

Dear SOC234 Lab,

Please respond to the following question with a reply-post of no more than 250 words:

‘What are the key principles and challenges of ethical research?”

Remember that you will need to post your reply before Lab 11, and don’t forget to look at both the instructions for Tweeting and Blogging and the Lab and Lecture Guide, both up on Moodle.

Thanks and good luck, Roger.

#S234UOW17  #Lab11  #Bega

Posted in Uncategorized.


  1. Standards of ethical research grew out of a combination of public outcry about human rights abuses and academic debate which led to the creation of Human Right’s Ethic Committees (HREC) (Habibs 2013, p. 73). A number of different principals for ethical research emerged in the Nuremberg code, which aimed at mitigating risks to participants, ensuring participants voluntarily consented, and ensuring that the potential risks or harms of a research project do not outweigh the gain to society. In order to conduct ethical research the researcher must get voluntary consent from participants, and make participants aware that consent can be withdrawn at any stage of the study, which will involve providing them with a participant information sheet containing details of the project, potential risks and how confidentiality will be protected (Habibs 2013, pp. 78-79). Further studies should, where possible aim to reduce the potential risks towards participants, and should not conduct the study if the potential harm outweighs the benefit to society. Ethic research can be challenging for researchers, as certain studies will inherently have a greater risk involved than other, for example interviewing participants with mental illnesses will always have a certain level of risk involved. It may also be challenging for the researcher to recognised all potential risks involved within a study, and it may be difficult, in certain situations to determine whether the potential gains for society outweigh the potential harm for participants. Further, some studies that have contributed greatly to our understanding of social phenomena such as the Stanford Prison Experiment, could only have been achieved by ignoring many of the ethical principals above.

  2. Research must be ethical to protect research participants from what could potentially be damaging consequences of having taken part in the research project. The most basic principle of ethical research is that the benefits of the research must outweigh the risk. It is assumed that all research contains an element of risk, however, all possible steps must be taken to minimise this risk. Risk is subjective, and deciding on whether a research project is within ethical guidelines can be challenging. This is one of the reasons that any research undertaken or funded by a government organisation must first be approved by an ethics committee (Habibis, 2013, p. 94).

    It is of particular importance to follow ethical guidelines when conducting sociological research as much of the time sociologists are asking vulnerable groups of people to participate, and often times the research sociologists are interested in conducting is of a sensitive nature.

    There is an innate power imbalance between the researcher and the researched (Habibis, 2013, p. 94). An interesting example of how this imbalance of power can manifest is Facebook’s study in 2012 where the researcher felt so confident in their power that they did not inform Facebook users that they were a part of the study, nor gain informed consent (a key principle of ethical research) from the unknowing participants of the study (Hunter, 2014, p.1).


    Habibis, D (2013) ‘Chapter 4 – Ethics and Social Research’ in Walter, Maggie (ed.) (2013) Social Research Methods, 3rd Edition, South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, p. 72-95.

    Hunter, D, 2014, ‘Consent and ethics in Facebooks’s emotional manipulation study’, The Conversation.

  3. Ethics in research have had a controversial history. Such as the horrific experiments on human captives in World War II which was undertaken by the Germans resulting in what is now known as the ‘Nuremberg War Crimes Trial’ (Walton, 2016). Past events such as this, have influenced today’s ethical standards. In social science, ethical research which involves human participants has a set of ethical principles and values that guide the research study. These values are: research merit and integrity, justice, and beneficence and respect. These values focus on such principles as: protection, autonomy, informed consent, and confidentiality (Habibis, 2013).
    In ethical research, the challenges can arise from the researcher and participant relationship. In research methods such as qualitative, there can be a number of different ethical issues. These issues range from respect for privacy, maintaining honest and open interactions between the researcher and research participant, and trying to avoid misrepresentations. It is likely that there will be a confrontation between the researcher and the participant if the area under research is a sensitive issue. The researcher must take into account of ethical principles when challenges arise (Sanjari, et al. 2014). The anonymity of research participants can challenging if the recruitment process requires the researcher to collect data of identification. Their identification may also be leaked if there is a legal or moral requirement to identify the participant. Confidentiality is similar to anonymity. Confidentiality can be breached if their data is seen by researchers and staff however their contribution to the research may not be identified. Another breach is the participants desire to have their data leaked to the public (Habibis, 2013).

    • References
      Walton, I 2016, ‘Ethical Research’, Midwifery Matters, no. 151, pp. 18-20.
      Habibis, D 2013, ‘Ethics and Social Research’, Chapter 4 in Walter, Maggie (ed.). (2013). Social Research Methods. 3rd Edition. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, p72-98.
      Sanjari, M, Bahramnezhad, F, Khoshnava Fomani, F, Shoghi, M, & Ali Cheraghi, M 2014, ‘Ethical challenges of researchers in qualitative studies: the necessity to develop a specific guideline’, Journal of Medical Ethics & History of Medicine, vol. 7, no. 14, pp. 1-6.

  4. Soc234 2017 Lab11 Bega

    Informed consent, the privacy principle and confidentiality and anonymity are some of the key issues of ethical research. “The main areas of ethical concern relate to: harm to participants: lack of informed consent: invasion of privacy: and deception.” (Bryman 2016, p.145) The internet has created new ways to deal with ethical decision making and has created challenges like the manipulation of information. For example, Facebook’s Consent for the emotional manipulation study certainly is an ethical concern that the researchers and Facebook “claimed that agreeing to Facebook’s data use policy when you sign up to Facebook constitutes informed consent.” (Hunter 2014) So using that “informed consent” Facebook has conducted a study on 689,003 people without their knowledge! The challenges for research could have been that the lack of consent may have been necessary, “with minimal risk, positive benefit over harm, debriefing and an option out”. When ethical review is needed states Habibis is when “Research is of low risk when the only foreseeable risk is one of discomfort.” (Habibis 2013, p.77) The HREC has set guidelines for when ethical review is needed the risks are: negligible, low-risk, informed consent and covert research these all have merit when quality research is done and these guidelines are met to assist with the challenges of ethical research. Past experiments that have been undertaken in 1970 include Humphreys’ Tearoom Trade which was a study that “employed covert research methods to discover the social background of men who engage in homosexual acts.” (Habibis 2013, p.76) Sometimes the nature of research can prevent us from obtaining consent, but is that any different by gaining consent by default?

    Bryman, A, 2016 ‘Chapter 6- Ethics and politics in social research’ Social Research Methods, 5th Edition, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, p. 139-145.

    Habibis, D, 2013 ‘Chapter 4 – Ethics and Social Research’ in Walter, Maggie (ed.) Social Research Methods, 3rd Edition, South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, p. 72-95.

    Hunter, D, 2014, ‘Consent and ethics in Facebooks’s emotional manipulation study’, The Conversation.url(accessed 16/10/17)

  5. Undertaking social research is different from other research principles as it involves the interaction with human beings. For this reason, a level of ethics must be taken into consideration, Walters defines ethics as ‘the establishment of a set of moral standards that govern behaviour in a particular setting or for a particular group’ (Walter 2013, p.73). These moral standards include research merit and integrity, justice, beneficence and respect for human beings (Walter 2013, p.78). The research must always have the participants best interest at heart and harm must be avoided or reduced where possible. A common way that a base line of ethics is applied is through informed consent and effective communication. Vulnerable groups must be taken into consideration, these include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and young people. The researcher must also be aware that their individual moral code may not link up with others, especially when cross-culture exchanges are inherent. Extensive research must be undertaken when conducting research projects with vulnerable groups. The moral dilemma entwined in ethics is how effective research is when high levels of conduct are enforced, for example informing people they are being studied which consequently alters their behaviour. Past social research projects have been enacted without the standard level of ethics, thus creating a lively debate about whether it is appropriate when the data generated is rich and useful.
    Habibis, D (2013) ‘Chapter 4 – Ethics and Social Research’ in Walter, Maggie (ed.) (2013) Social Research Methods, 3rd Edition, South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, p. 72-95.

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