Pieper, I and Thomson, CJH (2011) Contextualising Merit and Integrity within Human Research, Monash Bioethics Review,Volume 29, Number 4, pp 15.1 – 15.10 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF03351329
A Series on the Four Principles of the Australian National Statement on Ethics Conduct in Human Research
The articles were originally published in the Monash Bioethics Review and remain available to subscription holders to that journal. The publisher, Springer, has generously agreed to make each of the four articles available through SharedIt links which will be listed in each of the REM summaries. This month, we start with research merit and integrity.
The scientific merit of a project is an ethical issue because in our culture and society, participation in research is not obligatory. Accordingly, when people choose to offer themselves as research participants, they do so out of a sense of altruism. We agree with the argument that this choice should be based on sufficient information about and belief in the purpose of the research. Central to this is that the research has merit: that it is of value.
For any research to realise that value, it must be designed so that the results are recognised as being true or meaningful: that is, that the research has validity. The validity of research rests on the principles and processes of scientific, academic and disciplinary traditions relevant to the project and researchers need to show ethics review bodies that their project conforms to them.
Although ethics review bodies are not scientific review bodies, they do need to be satisfied that the research that they approve has merit so that involvement of human participants is ethically justified.
Judging the value and validity of a project, and being satisfied that the research has value and validity are two different exercises. When, in the review of a proposed project, formal scientific or disciplinary peer review processes are relied on, the distinction is clear. In this situation, the human research ethics review proceeds on the premise that the research has merit – that is, has value and validity.
The Australian National Statement lists six components of research merit that can be summarized as:
- Potential benefit,
- Methods appropriate to the project aims and discipline,
- Scientific basis,
- No compromise of respect for the participants,
- Adequately experienced, qualified and competent researchers and
- Appropriate facilities and resources.
The National Statement lists four components of research integrity:
An activity sheet about research ethics committees and the evaluation of scientific merit has been added to the AHRECS subscribers’ area. It includes notes for presenters. By becoming a patron you will get access to all the subscription material (with new items added every month). The material is posted on a creative commons basis so it can be loaded onto your institution’s servers for use in your in-house professional development activities. A subscription of USD15 per month (approx AUD20) grants access to all material. Subscribers can make requests for the topics for future activity sheets. AHRECS can provide a statement for paid subscriptions (for your accounting purposes). To subscribe visit https://www.patreon.com/ahrecs.
- Searching for knowledge and understanding means that research is conducted openly and consistently with, or builds on, established principles and so provides rigour.
- Following recognised principles of research conduct, so that researchers need to show that the proposed methods are recognized by the relevant discipline, are suitable and that the researchers competent in their use.
- Conducting research honestly, so that researchers are transparent about their aims and motivations. Otherwise, for example where a financial motive is concealed, recruitment would fail to fully inform participants, removing their ability to provide informed consent.
- Disseminating and communicating results is necessary because when findings are not published, participants’ contributions are devalued. Accordingly, human research ethics review bodies should insist on suitable disclosure of findings. What constitutes suitable disclosure should, in part, be determined by the need to respect the contribution made by participants.
Researchers can satisfy these requirements by fulfilling their primary responsibility (National Statement 5.2.5) for showing that their research has merit, not only by providing scientific and methodological discussion about the project, but also explaining the value of the project and its worth.
Ethics review bodies need to be assured that research has merit. Accordingly, researchers can make their lives easier by taking time to understand the evidence that will satisfy an ethics review body as to that merit and providing that evidence clearly, concisely, and accurately.
This post may be cited as:
Pieper, I & Thomson C. (22 August 2018) Research Ethics in Australia: A Story. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/contextualising-merit-and-integrity-within-human-research-a-summary
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