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Think about the issue of deception in research. Describe a scenario in which you, as the researcher, would be justified in withholding your identity as a researcher from your study subjects
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In the strict sense of the term “ethics in research involving human subjects,” there really is no provision for concealing the identity of the individual or organization conducting the research in question. In fact, the topic of “deception in research” is in itself inherently unethical, as “deception,” obviously and by definition, means “to deceive.” It is difficult to reconcile the concept of anonymity with respect to the identity of the researcher with universally-accepted principles of ethical research. In their textbook The Practice of Qualitative Research, the authors include in their chapter on “The Ethics of Social Research,” and based upon case studies intended to illuminate the physical and mental damage associated with landmark cases of unethical research involving human subjects – the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and Nazi Germany’s exploitation of imprisoned subjects for the purpose of conducting inhumane “medical” experiments, which resulted in the 1949 publication of the Nuremberg Code – the notion that “the moral integrity of the researcher is a critically important aspect of ensuring that the research process and a researcher’s findings are trustworthy and valid.” [http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/34088_Chapter4.pdf]
Similarly, the University Leicester (United Kingdom) issues its graduate students a “Basic Principles of Ethical Practice” that includes as its first such principle the widely-acknowledged requirement for “informed consent” on the part of the human subject. As the university’s guidelines define “informed consent,” the researcher is expected to “Say who you are; where you are from; and what you are doing.” [See: Ethical Considerations and Approval for Research Involving Human Participants, URL link provided below].
In short, the disclosure of the researcher’s identity is considered an inherent component of the code of ethics guiding research involving human beings. Now, that said, are there circumstances in which anonymity of the identity of the researcher is justified? Conceivably, and under the strictest circumstances, yes. Those circumstances must include the full participation of the head of the researcher’s department in the project to protect the interests of the human subjects. In cases where the head of the department is intimately involved in the conduct of the research, or has some kind of academic or vested interest in the research, then the consent of the university president should be attained. In fact, the interests of the institution are best protected the further up the chain-of-command such consent is obtained. Even then, it is highly questionable whether such practices constitute ethical behavior.
One possible scenario in which the identity of the individual or group conducting research involving human subjects may be justified could involve university-level, student-run research projects involving fellow students, or research by graduate students using undergraduate students as test subjects – a routine practice in departments of Psychology. Because of the potential for relationships between researcher and subject to influence the outcome, the anonymity of the researcher might be protected, but, even then, as noted, the department chair should be fully informed and should actively monitor the conduct of the research. This scenario, however, is a little far-fetched, as the conflict of interest provision is easily avoided by excluding students who know each other on a personal or even academic level.
It is conceivable that the identity of a researcher can be concealed under circumstances in which it is made clear to the human subjects the reason for that anonymity, as with unobtrusive surveys intended to elicit honest responses to questions regarding a product or concept the data of which will be provided to a business seeking better consumer information. This, however, is more a matter of public opinion polling than academic research, and falls outside the view of this examination.
In short, it is incumbent upon the researcher to identify him- or herself and to provide as much information on the nature and structure of the project to prospective human subjects as possible. In the event a legally and morally viable research proposal involving concealment of the identity of the researcher is conceived, then it is possible that such a scenario can be allowed to develop. Otherwise, ethics require identification of the researcher.
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