Ethical Research Methods and Practice in the Twenty-First Century

Ethical Research Methods and Practice in the Twenty-First Century

Chi Anyansi-Archibong (North Carolina A&T State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9624-2.ch095
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The growing record of unethical and socially irresponsible behavior among people of all ages and in all walks of life is a major concern for society at large. With advancements in technology and globalization these concerns have intensified, become more diverse and complex, and transcended national borders. This introductory chapter examines both the philosophical views of ethics and the contemporary issues surrounding research methods and practice. The chapter explores and summaries major contemporary issues in research methods and practice such as media research, cyber ethics, patents/trademark violations, collaborations, privacy issues, as well as the implications for both the micro and macro levels of the society. In addition to identifying the existing ethical concerns in research and practice, the final section sets the scene for discussions from the contributing authors and proposes recommendations and the need to address these ethical issues at all levels including research institutions, for-profit/not-for-profit organizations such as the United Nations and professional organizations.
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Advances in technology are major drivers of both globalization and telecommunication and thus, have created new challenges and complexities in ethical research methods and practice. Trends at both micro (individual) and macro (society) can be associated with advancement in nano-sciences, nanotechnology, bioethics, biotechnology, intellectual properties, social media research, and big data analysis. These innovative research methods practices have created additional questionable research conduct. Social media problems for example, include but not limited to privacy, security and intellectual property violations that come with hacking, open source, data sharing, and credibility issues. The conduct of the Stanford and Dartmouth political scientists that sent mails featuring the state’s official seal and offered information about candidates’ political leaning as an experiment to determine if the information will alter how Montana voters’ act has been condemned by researchers who see the experiment as unwise and unethical. Krosnick, a political scientist who commented in this article called it an attempt to manipulate politics and also stated that “it crosses an ethical line to create fictitious people and use government resources for people who don’t exist” (Bartlett, 2014). However, John Palfrey’s comment (2010) on social media opportunities for researchers said that “to ignore social media in research is like ignoring a man on fire”. Many organizations use social media for recruitment despite the problems of confidentiality and potential identity thefts. Michael Zimmer (2010) added his concern for IRB issues for social media research. His concerns include potential harms to human subjects and the fact that this may encourage fabrication of data as well as compromise integrity and honesty.

These trends are the result of new technological advancements and the potential implications of these actions in business, medicine, manufacturing, energy and many others are yet to emerge. Other contemporary ethical issues which were of little concern in the last two decades include cyber-attacks, terrorism, internet, privacy violations, health care, stem cells issues, and other major environmental disasters such as tsunami, pollution, global warming, and the need for sustainable ecosystem.

Although debate on ethical and moral issues goes back to the 15th and 16th century, technology and globalization in the 21st century has enhanced the challenges and driven the debate into global regulatory organizations such as the United Nations and its agencies. The UN Global Compact with a focus on Human Rights issues, labor, environment, and anti-corruption issues in the societies ( has become a major voice in issues of national and international conflicts especially where evidence of genocide and human rights violation exist. Although the UN principles may be seen as a focus on organizational and government practices (Governance and Corruptions), the media reports on many other contemporary ethical issues on research mishaps and fraud, for example, the recent report from the center for diseases control (CDC) on employees “accidental” exposure to Anthrax, the federal organization’s retention of unsecured small pox vials which were supposed to be safely destroyed years ago (ABC, NBC, CBS News June/July 2014). And yet, the most recent verdict on the death of a researcher in a UCLA Chemistry Laboratory is a verdict for poorly trained lab assistants and a wakeup call for universities and corporate research centers (Chronicle of Higher Education: Research, July 2014).

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