Published on November 11, 2016
1. Contents Ethics is the study of right and wrong in human conduct. Actions may be considered right or wrong according as the intentions of people, or the consequences of their actions, are good or bad. A major ques- tion in ethics is whether an absolute good exists, or only relative good can be found. Theories Based on Intentions Some ethical theories are based on the intentions of people. They say that absolute good exists, and actions are right, regardless of their consequences, when they are in accordance with natural law. The main problem in these theories is knowing what the right actions are. Religions say that we know which actions are absolutely right, and which are wrong, because we have been told by holy teachers, or sacred books. Unfortunately, differences between religions may pre- vent us from finding generally agreed ethical principles in this way. Alternatively, some philosophers say that we have the inborn ability to know which actions are right and wrong through our natural unity with everything in the world. But even if we have this ability, it is very difficult for us to find standards for knowing what is right and what is wrong. Absolute ethical principles must be consistent and universal. For example, a rule which allows everyone to break promises fails Ethics and Good Practice in Research kmutt.ac.th
2. because it is not consistent with the concept of promising. However, these criteria are not sufficient. For example, the rule that vehicles must drive on the left side of the road is consistent and could be made universal, but it is clearly not an absolute standard of correct- ness. Theories Based on Consequences Some ethical theories are based on the consequences of actions. These theories say that an action is right if it has good consequences, and wrong if it has bad consequences. These theories regard happi- ness as good. This good is relative because the happiness of some people may involve the unhappiness of others. Ethical rules which tell us how to obtain good consequences are found by experience, and by reasoning from known facts. Some ethical theories based on the consequences of actions say that self-interest should be the basic principle. These theories claim that generosity, not careless greed, is necessary for a person's long-term good in order to obtain goodwill from others. However, the self-in- terest principle has weaknesses. It cannot be used to solve legal disa- greements because judges would give advice for their own benefit instead of for the good of the people in conflict. These weaknesses make it hard to see how ethics based on the self-interest principle could lead to a stable society. Other ethical theories based on the consequences of actions say that actions are right if they produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people. A problem with this theory is: How do we meas- ure good? Another problem is whether to take action which benefits many people, but is unjust for a few. For example, should a small number of villagers be forced out of their traditional homes to build a hydroelectric dam which would benefit a million people? Our knowledge of the world grows when researchers have the resources and the freedom to study any subject and develop new ideas. Current scientific and technical research is based on a body of common knowledge which comes from the results of past research.
3. Researchers may also be dependent on new technology which is developed by manufacturers in industry. Therefore, researchers must acknowledge with gratitude what has been made possible for them by others. All important results and theories are carefully examined by the research community. New knowledge may show that old results and theories are incomplete, or even wrong. Therefore, researches must be willing to accept criticism from their fellow workers in the com- mon search for truth. Researchers must be able to trust each other, so they must exchange information honestly. The results of current research which have been accepted by the research community then contribute new information to the body of common knowledge. What Researchers Do • Study the accepted body of knowledge in a field, and the methods used to obtain this knowledge. • Collect new data by making observations and doing experiments. • Analyze data and develop theories to explain the data. • Communicate the results and ideas to other researchers. • Review the work of other researchers and offer criticisms of it where appropriate. • Train and supervise associates and students. In all these activities researchers have duties to the research commu- nity. Ethical principles govern how these duties should be performed. Methods of observation and measurement should be designed so that the data are not biased by the influence of the researcher, and are free from unwanted disturbances. When results are outside the expected range the data should be examined carefully and the meas- urements should be repeated to find out whether: • the work was not done carefully enough, or • the measurements were difficult and errors were caused by unwanted external disturbances, or
4. • the measurements were accurate and the results show a previously unknown effect. Researchers who are negligent, and produce inaccurate results in hasty work, have their reputations damaged. Even if the errors are corrected later, poor quality results will mislead other researchers, and the work will not be trusted by the research community. When proposing general principles and theories, researchers are influenced by beliefs from their cultural backgrounds and their pre- vious training. Beliefs and ideas which are inconsistent with known facts cannot survive in the research community. Therefore, research- ers must be willing to give up or modify their beliefs and ideas in the light of new evidence. Researchers who develop a wide range of interests, which may include philosophy, religion, history, and art, will be able to under- stand more clearly the nature of the beliefs which influence their thinking. They will then be more creative and successful in the devel- opment of new principles and theories. Results of research should be shared with other researchers by publi- cation. Credit for new discoveries goes to the researchers who pub- lish first, not necessarily to those who make the discovery first. (However, equal credit may sometimes be given to different researchers who make a discovery and publish their results inde- pendently at almost the same time.) The results of research are shared with other researchers in several different ways: • Informal discussions by word of mouth, or by mail. • Presentations at seminars and conferences, and publication in conference proceedings. • Disclosure in patents. • Formal publication in reviewed journals and books.
5. Intellectual Property In the past, researchers often kept their work secret because they feared that others would steal the results and claim credit for doing the work themselves. Today the work of researchers is protected by official patents, and by publication in copyrighted journals. Before publication, research results may be the intellectual property of the individual researcher, or the agency funding the research, or the researcher's employer, depending on the agreements under which the research is done. Results need not be disclosed to others until the researcher is sure they are correct and ready for publica- tion. Patents A patent is an official document giving its owner the legal right to use an invention for commercial profit without competition from others. Anyone else who wishes to commercialize the invention must get permission from the owner of the patent. Patents encourage researchers to develop useful inventions and dis- close information about them to the research community without the fear that they will be copied by others. An invention produced in research funded by a company may be patented by the company. The invention must be different from other inventions already patented. Therefore, applications for a patent are examined carefully by the issuing authority before the patent is given. Seminars and Conferences Preliminary results of research are often presented at seminars and conferences before publication in reviewed journals. Abstracts of papers submitted to the organizers of seminars and conferences are checked to ensure that they are about suitable topics, but they are not usually examined in detail. Therefore, researchers must take great care that what they present is correct. It is bad for researchers
6. to make public claims that are later found to be wrong. These wrong claims may even appear in the news media! The advice given in How to Write a Seminar Paper and Notes on Writing a Thesis (on this web site) can also be applied to the writing of papers for publication in reviewed journals. Manuscripts submit- ted to the editor of a journal are sent to experts for review. The reviewers usually make one of the following recommendations to the editor: • Accept the paper for publication. • Accept the paper provided that minor improvements are made. • Return the paper to the author for major corrections or revisions. • Reject the paper. After publication, papers may again be examined and discussed by the research community before the results are generally accepted as part of our knowledge. Authors of Papers Progress in research may be the result of individual work, or the efforts of several researchers working together. Therefore, a paper may have one, or more than one, author. When there are several authors, the first name in the list at the top of the paper is usually the originator of the research idea, or the leader of the research team. All the authors listed in the paper must have done a significant amount of work in the research; and they are all responsible for eve- rything in the paper. If a paper contains an error, one author cannot blame another author for writing the section containing the error. Therefore, a person's name cannot be added to the list of authors without that person's permission, and all the authors listed must see and approve the manuscript before it is submitted for publication.
7. Acknowledgments and References These sections of the paper are for giving credit to the people who have helped the research project in various ways. The Acknowledgments section should name all those who have given advice, information, materials, and financial support. The References section should list all the publications used by the researchers in the course of their work. The references must include, not only sources of data and technical information, but also descrip- tions of previous work on which the new research is based. Researchers who fail to give credit in these ways can have their rep- utations damaged, especially among those whose contributions are ignored. Conflicts of interest may occur which affect the ethical conduct of a researcher. Here are some examples: • A researcher may be paid by a commercial company to test one of its products. The researcher may then be unwilling to report that the product is faulty in order to win the favor of the company. The researcher should report the truth about the product. • A researcher may receive for review a paper which contains confidential information about work being done in competition with his own work. He may be tempted to reject the paper so that he can publish his own results first. To avoid this problem, journals have more than one reviewer for each paper submitted, and they publish the date when the paper was first received by the editor. There are various kinds of misconduct which must be prevented in the research community. Here are some examples: • A researcher who discovers that some of the results which he has published are wrong, and fails to publish a correction to them, is guilty of misconduct.
8. • A researcher who finds out what another researcher is doing and then publishes the same results first, claiming credit for himself, is a thief stealing the intellectual property of the other researcher. • A researcher who invents false data, pretending to report the results of work that was not done, is dishonest. • A researcher who changes the data he has obtained in order to show a result different from the truth is dishonest. • A researcher who copies the writing of another author and presents it in his own work without acknowledgment is guilty of plagiarism. Dishonest researchers may do these things for various reasons, for example: to pass a thesis examination, to get promotion or financial support, or to publish a result before other researchers. But a researcher can get only short term gains by unethical means. In the end, misconduct damages the reputation of the researcher; and may also damage the credibility of the institution in which the researcher works. A dishonest researcher cannot enjoy the satisfaction of making valu- able contributions to our knowledge as a respected member of the research community. Therefore, good researchers are careful to maintain the highest ethical standards in their work. By R. H. B. Exell, 1998. King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi. Back to Home Page