By Gordon Rugg
I have done questionable things….
Note: I’ve written this article, like all the other Hyde & Rugg blog articles, in my capacity as a private individual, not as a member of Keele University.
This article intended as an explanation of why researchers need to pay serious attention to research ethics. It’s not intended as a complete overview of all the issues that ethics committees have to consider, which would require a much longer article. For example, I don’t discuss the issue of informed consent, although this is a very important topic. Similarly, I don’t discuss whether ethical review could lead to a chilling effect on research. Instead, I’ve focused on the underlying issue of why a researcher’s own opinion about ethics isn’t enough.
Research ethics committees are interesting places. The ethics committees I attend are the only committee meetings that I actively look forward to. This is partly because everybody is focused on doing a good, professional job as quickly and efficiently as possible, and then getting back to our other work. It’s also partly because the cases that we deal with are often fascinating.
Most research students view ethics committees as an obstacle to be passed, taking precious time and effort. The reality is very different. If you’re a researcher, whether a novice or an expert, the ethics committee is a valuable friend, and can help you avoid all sorts of risks that might otherwise cause you serious grief.
In this article, I’ll discuss some ways that ethics committees help you, and some things that could go wrong in ways that you might not expect. Some of those risks are seriously scary. I’ve avoided going into detail about triggering topics wherever possible, but some of the things that go wrong with ethics might trigger some readers. By way of a gentle start, here’s a restful image of a tropical beach.