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Scientific researchers are the upholders of the scientific tradition. Theirs is a tremendous responsibility. As a member of this unique profession, they have to abide by a set of moral, legal and ethical standards. Ethical issues in research come in three basic categories:.

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The researcher’s responsibility towards science and the society at large

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The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

Scientific researchers are the upholders of the scientific tradition. Theirs is a tremendous responsibility. As a member of this unique profession, they have to abide by a set of moral, legal and ethical standards.

Ethical issues in research come in three basic categories:

  • The researcher’s responsibility towards science and the society at large

  • The researcher’s responsibility towards his or her colleagues

  • The researcher’s responsibility towards his or her research subjects.


The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

The researcher’s responsibility towards science and the society:

Any research project undertaken must be:

  • Purposeful.

  • It must have a chance to succeed, and

  • Yield useful results.

Research must not be solely a vehicle for the career advancement of the researcher who would publish papers that would add nothing to the human body of knowledge and only a line to the researcher’s list of publications.


The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

Research costs money. This money is either:

Public funds (your taxes paid to the researcher via a government body) or donations (e.g.your contribution to the American Cancer Society). Or

Corporate funds (IBM, UTRC. Etc.). Corporate funds of publicly listed companies are again public funds.

A researcher has the responsibility to ensure funds bestowed on him or her are not wasted. In fact the responsibility is greater than that. He or she must ensure that the best possible use is made of such funds.


The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

A researcher therefore has the responsibility to be absolutely truthful about:

  • How he/she is conducting the research

  • His/her progress

  • Disbursement of funds and the necessity for such disbursement.

In fact a researcher should stop the project if it becomes evident that the project would not yield useful results.


The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

A researcher also has a responsibility to science and to his/her discipline.

  • Funding that has gone to X could have gone to Y. This creates a responsibility in X towards Y.

  • Findings of research done by X may be used by Y. This creates the responsibility in X to provide Y with high quality results. In fact the test of the value of any research is its eventual use as the basis for other research.

  • The researcher must NEVER mislead, falsify or deviate from objectivity.


The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

The researcher’s responsibility towards his or her colleagues:

Some researchers spend their entire lives in pursuit of a single fact. In a professional society, it is incumbent upon all members to not only respect but actually safeguard the rights of their colleagues.

It is therefore imperative that all research done by others and used in relation with the current project be adequately and correctly referenced so that the rights of those who actually produced the results are preserved.


The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

Referencing is also the fulfillment of a responsibility towards colleagues from another perspective.

By providing adequate referencing, your colleagues would be able to:

  • Qualify, verify and further justify the basis of your work

  • More easily access work that may help THEM in their work.

Remember, research is best to be thought of as collaboration not competition.


The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

A professional researcher therefore has the responsibility to publish the results of his/her research. Unless private funding is allocated and in other words the research is privately “purchased”, the researcher has the duty to publish the findings as widely as possible. Usually in a public forum such as an academic conference or a journal.

In fact purist researchers often refrain from participating in research projects where the funding has “strings attached”. In other words if they find that they would not be allowed to choose where to publish the results.


The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

Another important responsibility of a researcher is to never voluntarily and unnecessarily endanger the well-being of any of his or her colleagues in the course of research or as a result of it.

This is particularly true of:

  • Research Assistants, who may be placed at risk during the course of research through exposure to materials, electrical shock, undue stress, etc.

  • Student assistants, particularly graduate students, whose careers might be impacted by the research or the researcher’s decisions.


The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

The researcher’s responsibility towards his or her research subjects:

Subjects come in three categories:

  • Inanimate

  • Animal

  • Human

In computer science, there is very little animal experimentation but human and inanimate subjects abound.


The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

Inanimate objects have no rights. Their owners do. These rights of ownership must be preserved and respected by the researcher.

Human subjects have many rights and the researcher has many responsibilities and areas of concern with respect to them.

The responsible researcher must:

  • Seek and ensure voluntary participation and informed consent of each and every subject. This is particularly important in the case of child participants or those who cannot legally give consent, such as the mentally infirm.


The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

  • Ensure equality of risk/reward. This means that unless otherwise informed and consent received all subjects should face equal risk or reward as a consequence of their participation. A particular case of this is when the subjects are placed in two or several groups that are treated differently and one or some of these groups would receive a distinct benefit denied of the others. For example when a group would be trained in a technique whereas the control group would not.

  • Ensure to minimize use of deception. Subjects must not be deceived. If use of deception is an integral part of the research, then the participants must be informed that they may be deceived.


The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

  • Ensure the privacy and confidentiality of the subjects. The extent of the breach, if any, of such privacy and or confidentiality, must be discussed and agreed in writing with the subjects prior to the commencement of the project.

  • Ensure professionalism. The researcher must never interact with the subject (as part of the research) in a context that is outside accepted professional conduct. This means keeping appointments, performing the procedure at the time and in the manner agreed a priori, and by the person agreed to do so. Needless to say, no unnecessary bodily contact, even if invited, should be made between the researcher and the subject during the conduct of the research.


The researcher s responsibility towards science and the society at large

  • Ensure the subjects right to withdraw consent. This means that the subject has the right to discontinue participating in the research at any time and without necessarily giving a reason.

  • Ensure the subject’s right to a debrief.


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