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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Damaging Real Lives Through Obstinacy: Re-Emphasising Why Significance Testing is Wrong (Papers: Stephen Gorard 2016)0

Posted by Admin in on August 28, 2016

This paper reminds readers of the absurdity of statistical significance testing, despite its continued widespread use as a supposed method for analysing numeric data. There have been complaints about the poor quality of research employing significance tests for a hundred years, and repeated calls for researchers to stop using and reporting them. There have even been attempted bans. Many thousands of papers have now been written, in all areas of research, explaining why significance tests do not work. There are too many for all to be cited here. This paper summarises the logical problems as described in over 100 of these prior pieces. It then presents a series of demonstrations showing that significance tests do not work in practice. In fact, they are more likely to produce the wrong answer than a right one. The confused use of significance testing has practical and damaging consequences for people’s lives. Ending the use of significance tests is a pressing ethical issue for research. Anyone knowing the problems, as described over one hundred years, who continues to teach, use or publish significance tests is acting unethically, and knowingly risking the damage that ensues.

Keywords: Significance Testing, Inverse Probabilities, Statistical Errors, Ethics of Social Research

Gorard S (2016) Damaging Real Lives Through Obstinacy: Re-Emphasising Why Significance Testing is Wrong. Sociological Research Online, 21 (1), 2 DOI: 10.5153/sro.3857

Ethics in Violence and Abuse Research – a Positive Empowerment Approach (Papers: Julia Downes, et al 2014)0

Posted by Admin in on August 25, 2016


Research governance, including research ethics committees and data protection legislation, is invested in protecting the individual rights of participants in social care and health research. Increasingly funders expect evidence of outcomes that engage with ‘service users’, making research critical in supporting social interventions to compete for scant resources in an economic climate marked by ‘austerity’ (Sullivan 2011). This article focuses on the tensions that can arise from the research governance of violence and abuse research. We argue that increased scrutiny of violence and abuse as a ‘sensitive’ topic that involves ‘vulnerable’ groups has made ethical clearance more challenging, which in turn can lead to a dangerous lack of evidence. This can have a harmful impact upon women and children and leave specialised violence and abuse services facing a precarious future. Drawing on recent debates we describe the ‘positive empowerment’ approach used to engage victim-survivors and perpetrators of domestic violence in Project Mirabal. We conclude with recommendations for ethical decision-making in violence and abuse research: (i) to reconsider participants as active agents and stakeholders; (ii) to prioritise the development of skilled researchers; (iii) to develop situated processes of informed consent and confidentiality; and (iv) to continue to discuss and share practical experiences of feminist research practice that seeks to deliver justice and social change.

Keywords: Research Governance, Research Ethics, Research Design, Confidentiality, Informed Consent, Violence, Abuse

Downes J, Kelly L and Westmarland N (2014) Ethics in Violence and Abuse Research – a Positive Empowerment Approach. Sociological Research Online, 19 (1) 2 10.5153/sro.3140

Identifying individuals while protecting privacy – The Ethics Blog (Pär Segerdahl August 2015)0

Posted by Admin in on August 24, 2016

Research ethics is complex and requires considering issues from several perspectives simultaneously. I’ve written about the temptation to reduce par-segerdahlresearch ethics to pure protection ethics. Then not as much needs to be kept in mind. Protection is the sole aim, and thinking begins to resemble the plot of an adventure film where the hero finally sets the hostages free.

Protection is of course central to research ethics and there are cases where one is tempted to say that research participants are taken hostage by unscrupulous scientists. Like when a group of African-American men with syphilis were recruited to a research study, but weren’t treated because the researchers wanted to study the natural course of the disease.

Everyday life is not one big hostage drama, however, which immediately makes the issues more complex. The researcher is typically not the villain, the participant is not the victim, and the ethicist is not the hero who saves the victim from the villain. What is research ethics in everyday situations…

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Promises, Promises: Lessons in Research Ethics from the Belfast Project and ‘The Rape Tape’ Case (Papers: Kay Inckle 2015)0

Posted by Admin in on August 23, 2016

This paper draws on two social research projects which have made headline news in the Republic of Ireland since 2011: The Belfast Project which was conducted by ex-paramilitary researchers in Northern Ireland in conjunction with Boston College in the USA, alongside what the media dubbed as ‘The Rape Tape’ case involving a postgraduate student from Maynooth University in the Republic of Ireland. Considered together, these cases highlight contrasting approaches to ethics which have significant lessons for sociologists teaching and conducting ethical research. The cases illustrate how sociologists need to model nuanced yet robust approaches to ethics if we are to avoid causing harm to research participants and to produce students with solid ethical skills which they can utilise in a range of contexts. Such an approach combines ontological foundations with reflexive, context specific applications. The paper begins with an outline of the two cases based on documentary sources. The cases are then considered in the context ethical definitions and protocols from academic texts and professional sociological bodies across the three affected jurisdictions (UK, Ireland, USA) in order to reflect on the lessons and implications for sociologists in conducting and teaching ethical research.

Keywords: Research Ethics, Sensitive Research, the Belfast Project, the Rape Tape Case

Inckle K (2015) Promises, Promises: Lessons in Research Ethics from the Belfast Project and ‘The Rape Tape’ Case. Sociological Research Online, 20 (1), 6 DOI: 10.5153/sro.3570