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Should we Reframe Research Ethics as a Professional Ethics?0

 

Dr Nathan Emmerich
Research Fellow in Bioethics at ANUMS

Despite the fact that one of the urtexts of bioethics—Beauchamp and Childress’ principles of biomedical ethics—offers a set of concepts that purport to apply to both research and medical practice it is nevertheless the case that we standardly contrast research ethics with professional ethics. The operating presumption seems to be that a proper grasp of professional ethics requires an understanding of the unique role professional’s play, whereas the same cannot be said of research ethics. Here the presumption is that researchers are not unique but interchangeable. Furthermore, their individuality is inimical to good, and therefore ethical, research.

Whilst both healthcare professionals and researchers should be objective, the professional enters into a singular relationship with their patients. The position of the researcher can, however, be occupied by any relevantly qualified individual and their function is to report their scientific observations. Thus, underlying this contrast is an epistemological point. The perceived importance of the relationship between doctors and patients means that whilst the ethics of the preeminent profession, medicine, are predicated on professionalism they are equally predicated on something that is distinctively (inter)personal. In contrast, the notion that there might be an (inter)personal dimension to the relationship between researchers and research participants is inimical to the requirement for objectivity, at least for a certain value of objectivity.

COMMENTARY
Nik Zeps, AHRECS

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In this thought-provoking blog, Nathan Emmerich challenges the notion that there is any distinction between research ethics and professional ethics when it comes to social science research. That is, the very nature of the enterprise requires that the researcher be deeply engaged in ethical discourse throughout the conduct of the study and not simply at a point in time to satisfy the regulatory requirements of ethics committees to obtain their approval. Whilst the argument is reserved for the social sciences, and there is some hesitancy to extend it beyond this, it is clear that the arguments made are true for all research, including biomedical. There is a reluctance to challenge notions about the divide between research and clinical practice that have been with us for over 50 years, but perhaps it is time to have a proper discussion about whether this is or is not applicable any longer. Patient centered research with an emphasis on co-design with consumers upends the notion that this type of research maintains a separation between researchers and research participants. Social science research provides an immediate opportunity for rethinking how we behave ethically, but biomedical research should follow hot on the heels.

Therein, of course, lies the rub. According to Stark, the differentiation between research ethics and professional ethics can be traced to the National Institute of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA, circa 1950. Given the existing competition between the codes of professional ethics promulgated by medicine’s sub-specialties, the nascent idea of a research ethics was conceived pragmatically and in aprofessional terms. When it came to biomedical research, and the epistemology of the natural sciences, this was not an issue. However, consistent with Schrag’s critique of the subsequent development of research ethics as neglecting concerns expressed by social scientists, this is more problematic when it comes to the social sciences, particularly at the more interpretive end of the spectrum.
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In qualitative social science the unique perspective, position or standpoint of the researcher is essential to understanding socio-cultural reality and, therefore, to the process of conducting research. Furthermore, it is not something that can be eliminated by the use of (replicable) quantitative measures. This does not mean qualitative research cannot be objective. Rather, it means that the notion of objectivity differs between the natural and social sciences. Doing qualitative social science does not mean embracing subjectivity. Rather, it requires qualitative researchers to embrace epistemological reflexivity and to aim at objectivity as a value, virtue, or standpoint of social research.
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When this is coupled with the fact that such research often seeks to give expression to the ‘lived experience’ of research participants, one can see how a concern for the (inter)personal must return to center stage in discussions of social scientific research ethics. One way of doing so would be to rethink the ethics of social scientific research as a form of professional ethics. Thus, rather than simply ‘frontloading’ ethical decision-making as a part of the design of proposed research, which can then be subject to peer review or evaluation by committee, we can more clearly acknowledge that engaging with the ethical dimension of research requires ongoing attention. The range of ethical issues researchers might encounter, both in the field and as a function of their role, are such that we cannot hope to fully address them preemptively. In this context, and consistent with the contemporary concern for the integrity of both research and researchers, we might draw on the idea of researchers as professionals and, in so doing, embrace the view that they ought to be guided by a set of internal professional norms or ethics.
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Of course, this is not exactly a solution to the ethical issues social scientists might encounter in the course of research. It does, however, invite further engagement with such questions. Indeed, one can say more than this. Rather than thinking of the ethics of research as something to be addressed and codified by external commentators, such as bioethicists, the idea that research might benefit from a professional ethics invites researchers themselves to lead the discussion. No doubt questions remain, not least on what might constitute a profession or professional group in this context. Nevertheless, this proposal suggests that both professional groups and professional researchers should play a privileged role in creating, interpreting and putting into practice the substantive commitments of their own professional ethics. Furthermore, it is for them to set forth, justify and communicate the stance they adopt to other stakeholders.
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This suggestion stands in relatively stark contrast to conceptions of research ethics, where external standards and evaluations are seen as having priority. To me, the difference is akin to the one we find when comparing research ethics committees and clinical ethics committees. The former tends to be rather one-sided; it assesses and offers judgment on research proposals or documents. The latter engages with professional actors and, through a process of mutual dialogue and discussion, facilitates and contributes to the individual’s own ethical formations. Which approach is more likely to promote the ethics and integrity of research, particularly social scientific research, seems self-evident.
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Dr Nathan Emmerich is a Research Fellow in Bioethics at ANUMS. The ideas presented in this post stem from a book chapter entitled ‘A Professional Ethics for Researchers?’ (online first) recently published in Iphofen (Ed) Handbook of Research Ethics and Scientific Integrity (Springer) as well as an earlier publication ‘Reframing Research Ethics.

References:

Beauchamp, T.L., and J.F. Childress. 2009 [1979]. Principles of Biomedical Ethics. 6th Edition. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Emmerich, N. 2016 ‘Reframing Research Ethics: Towards a Professional Ethics for the Social Sciences’. Sociological Research Online 21(4):7 http://www.socresonline.org.uk/21/4/7.html

Emmerich, N. 2019. ‘A Professional Ethics for Researchers?’ In Iphofen, R. (Ed) Handbook of Research Ethics and Scientific Integrity. Springer. Online First: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-76040-7_34-1

Iphofen, R. (Ed) Forthcoming 2020. Handbook of Research Ethics and Scientific Integrity. Springer, https://link.springer.com/referencework/10.1007/978-3-319-76040-7

Stark, L. 2011. Behind Closed Doors: IRBs and the Making of Ethical Research. University of Chicago Press. https://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/B/bo12182576.html

Schrag, Z.M. 2010. Ethical Imperialism: Institutional Review Boards and the Social Sciences, 1965–2009. The Johns Hopkins University Press. https://jhupbooks.press.jhu.edu/title/ethical-imperialism

This post may be cited as:
Emmerich, N. (1 October 2019) Should we Reframe Research Ethics as a Professional Ethics? Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/should-we-reframe-research-ethics-as-a-professional-ethics

Sage Methods Minute. January Spotlight: Research Ethics0

 

January’s Methods Minutes, a monthly newsletter produced by Sage Publishing, is a special issue focused on social research ethics. It reviews two articles and one book from Sage’s extensive collection on research ethics and also links to an article by Janet Salmons on the importance of research ethics in an ethics-challenged world. Finally, it introduces a video of Mark Israel (AHRECS) discussing the importance of integrating ethical principles in the design of the project from the outset.

The full page can be seen at http://info.sagepub.com/q/1fcUbqkq9C2tGu15bd0Q65f/wv

Contributor
Dr Mark Israel. Senior Consultant AHRECS
AHRECS profilemark.israel@ahrecs.com

This post may be cited as:
Israel, M. (26 February 2019) Sage Methods Minute. January Spotlight: Research Ethics. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/sage-methods-minute-january-spotlight-research-ethics

Self-plagiarism? When re-purposing text may be ethically justifiable0

Posted by Admin in Research Integrity on January 19, 2019 / Keywords: , , ,
 

In an institutional environment where researchers may be coming under increasing pressure to publish, the temptations to take short cuts and engage in duplicate or redundant publication can be significant. Duplicate publication involves re-publishing substantially the same data, analysis, discussion and conclusion without providing proper acknowledgement or justification for the practice. Such behaviour is often condemned as ideoplagiarism or self-plagiarism, locating this practice as a parallel activity to that which appropriates other people’s ideas and words and reproduces them without due acknowledgement.

There are good reasons for censuring self-plagiarism – it distorts the academic record where meta-analyses are not aware of the duplicate publication, and provides an unfair advantage when academics’ track records are being compared. In an earlier publication (Israel, 2015), I detailed some examples of social scientists who engaged in self-plagiarism. However, I also argued that ‘It may be appropriate to publish similar articles in different journals in order to ask different research questions, link to different literatures or reach new and different audiences’ (p.163). I would like to explore some of the situations that I have encountered in the last few years where I believe re-use of text might not be inappropriate and, indeed, might actually be the ethical thing to do.

Global rankings and national assessments of universities are largely based on research inputs and outputs. Mostly, the output indicators privilege publications in international higher-ranking journals; the vast majority of those only publish in English. However, there are several good reasons why research outputs should also appear outside English-language journals. First, researchers may be funded by research councils from countries that are not Anglophone. Those research councils may indeed want to maximise their international impact by publishing in English. However, they may also recognise that they have an obligation to support researchers in their countries who are not fluent in English; indeed, they ought to be supporting the maintenance of their own languages and ensuring that scholarly discourse continues to be conducted in their native tongues. This is a policy supported by the National Committees for Research Ethics in Norway (2006), for example.

Second, researchers often have made a commitment to disseminate the results of their studies to participants or to policy-makers – where either of these communities are not English-speaking, republishing in a language other than English may be entirely appropriate.

So, revising a published paper and translating that into a language other than English might be a laudable way of preserving a research culture in a small language group, influencing policy-makers or returning a benefit to a low- or middle-income country (LMIC). This activity, of course, needs to be acknowledged and transparent and cannot be double-counted as a research output.

Following a roundtable discussion of social research ethics hosted by the University of Haifa, a chapter that I co-authored (Allen and Israel, 2017) was recently translated into Hebrew and published in an Israeli journal. Gary Allen and I a greed to do this in order to encourage further discussion of human research ethics in Israel. The decision was taken with the approval of our original editors and publishers.

In 2018, I co-authored an article on research ethics in Taiwan with a Taiwanese academic (Gan and Israel, in press). This will be published in Developing World Bioethics and we shall explore the possibility of modifying it for a Mandarin version aimed specifically at a readership of Taiwanese academics and policy-makers. While many senior Taiwanese academics are fluent in English, this is less likely to be the case among those who have not completed postgraduate qualifications in North America, Australasia or the United Kingdom. Publishing in Mandarin would extend access to our work (including allowing it to be found in a search using Traditional Chinese script), and may make it more readily available for undergraduate teaching. Sometimes, we can craft opportunities to help readers of other languages without translating the entire article. A recent article that I co-authored with Lisa Wynn (Wynn and Israel, 2018) took advantage of the American Anthropologist’s novel angle for each chapter when the briefs from commissioning editors are so similar policy of publishing all abstracts in both English and Spanish. At our request, the editors agreed to add abstracts in Arabic and French.

I wonder if fear of being seen as self-plagiarising also inhibits academics writing book chapters in research ecosystems where chapters do not count for much. I have repeatedly been invited to write chapters that give an overview of social research ethics. Initially, I tended to say yes. However, it is difficult to continually deliver a novel angle for such a chapter when the brief from the commissioning editor is so similar. I have collaborated with co-authors in order to develop new directions. However, sometimes this is not practicable and yet there may still be some value in repurposing existing text and tailoring it for a new audience. For a recent edited collection where I was invited to write a review of global regulation of human research ethics, the publishers as a matter of policy quite understandably challenged any article that relied on previously published work for more than ten per cent of its material. However, the editor had approached me looking for a synthesis of work that included, updated and condensed material that had already appeared in my single-authored book (Israel, 2015). I had raised the matter of overlapping text with him, and so he was able to persuade the publisher that a far larger fraction was warranted in this case. My book publisher also agreed.

I have not encountered much discussion of these matters in the published literature. But, I spend much of my time running professional development in research ethics. In these fora, I counsel researchers that when confronted by an ethical issue they ought to attempt to discern what might be an ethical response, act on that analysis and then publicly acknowledge and, where necessary, defend their actions.

There are several principles that might in some circumstances provide support for the argument that I have traced here. Of course, any strategy needs to be guided by the requirements of research integrity and so we should be citing and acknowledging any other work to which we refer appropriately and accurately (Researcher Responsibility 27, Australian Code, 2018).

The Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings (TRUST Project,2018) considers that fairness in research in low- and middle-income countries requires that:

Feedback about the findings of the research must be given to local communities and research participants. It should be provided in a way that is meaningful, appropriate and readily comprehended. (Article 3)

Similarly, the 2018 Australian Code places responsibility on researchers to ‘Disseminate research findings responsibly, accurately and broadly…’ (Research Responsibility 23). Any strategy should also be tested in Australia against the principles adopted by the National Statement (2007, updated 2018). In this context, the most pertinent of these are integrity, which would require honesty and commitment to recognised research principles, and justice which would require a fair distribution of the benefits of research. None of these codes or guidelines explicitly considers repurposing existing text, nor do they focus their discussion of dissemination on academic publications. Nevertheless, they do require us to consider what dissemination strategy might be most appropriate and this may well involve adapting and translating material for academic publication in order to reach new audiences.

So, here is my advice for those who are considering re-using text that they have previously published:

  1. Assess whether your reasons are ethically defensible;
  2. Seek the agreement of those involved in your first publication – co-authors, editors and publishers; in some cases, publishers will want a specific form of acknowledgement;
  3. Seek the agreement of those involved in the new publication that will be reproducing material – any co-authors, editors and publishers;
  4. Clearly acknowledge in the new publication that you are drawing on the earlier publication and do so with the agreement of the various parties, and
  5. Where it would be misleading not to do so, also note the relationship between publications in your CV and any job or grant applications.

References

Allen, G & Israel, M (2018) Moving beyond Regulatory Compliance: Building Institutional Support for Ethical Reflection in Research. In Iphofen, R & Tolich, M (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research Ethics. London: Sage. pp.276-288. Published in Hebrew as

גארי אלן ומארק ישראל 2018 מעבר לציות רגולטרי: בנית תמיכה מוסדית ברפלקציה אתית במחקר

The Study of Organizations and Human Resource Management Quarterly3(1). pp.16-30.

Gan, Z-R & Israel, M (in press) Transnational Policy Migration, Interdisciplinary Policy Transfer and Decolonization: Tracing the Patterns of Research Ethics Regulation in Taiwan. Developing World Bioethics.

Israel, M (2015) Research Ethics and Integrity for Social Scientists: Beyond Regulatory Compliance. London: Sage.

National Committees for Research Ethics in Norway (2006) Guidelines for Research Ethics in the Social Sciences, Law and the Humanities. Available at: https://www.etikkom.no/globalassets/documents/english-publications/guidelines-for-research-ethics-in-the-social-sciences-law-and-the-humanities-2006.pdf (accessed 15 January 2019).

National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council and Universities Australia (2007, updated 2018) National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.Canberra. Available at: https://nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/national-statement-ethical-conduct-human-research-2007-updated-2018 (accessed 16 January 2019).

National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council and Universities Australia (2018) Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. Canberra. Available at: https://nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/australian-code-responsible-conduct-research-2018 (accessed 16 January 2019).

TRUST Project (2018) Global Code of Conduct for Research in Resource-Poor Settings. Available at: http://www.globalcodeofconduct.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Global-Code-of-Conduct-Brochure.pdf (accessed 16 January 2019).

Wynn, LL & Israel, M (2018) The Fetishes of Consent: Signatures, Paper and Writing in Research Ethics Review. American Anthropologist 120(4) pp795–806.

Contributor
Dr Mark Israel, Senior Consultant AHRECS | Profile | mark.israel@ahrecs.com

This post may be cited as:
Israel, M. (20 January 2018) Self-plagiarism? When re-purposing text may be ethically justifiable. Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/self-plagiarism-when-re-purposing-text-may-be-ethically-justifiable

AHRECS Human research ethics workshop in Thailand0

 

One of our consultants (Dr Lindsey Te Ata o Tu MacDonald) recently facilitated a seminar on research ethics in the department of politics and governance at Mahasarakham University, Thailand. After 5 minutes setting out the institutions and codes of Thailand, Lindsey’s session was a practical ‘how to guide’ on research ethics for students and staff. Lindsey has often been called on to give such talks as Chair of the New Zealand Ethics Committee (see nzethics.com) and in his earlier role as Chair of the University of Canterbury Human Ethics Committee. Interestingly, the way in which Lindsey asks researchers to ‘imaginative engage’ with the ethics of their project by asking them how they would design their project if their Grandmother wanted to participate, and it was a stranger doing the research – what Lindsey calls the ‘grandmother test’ – translated directly in to Thai, as the ‘Yai test’.

For more on ‘imaginative engagement’ see Guillemin, M., Gillam, L., Rosenthal, D., & Bolitho, A. (2008). Investigating human research ethics in practice: Project report. Melbourne, VIC, Australia: Centre for Health and Society, The University of Melbourne. , and For Lindsey’s first paper setting out the ‘grandmother test’ see. MacDonald, L. T. A. O. T. (2018). Ethics and Politics. In M. Tolich & C. Davidson (Eds.), Social Science Research in NZ (4th ed.). Auckland: University of Auckland Press.

Participants in the seminar on Ethics in human subject research at the College of Politics and Governance, Mahasarakham University, Thailand

Prof Cherngcharn Chongsomchai, Dean and Head of the College of Politics and Governance, debating a point with students and staff during the seminar.

Contributor
AHRECS Team | Our Services | engage@ahrecs.com

This post may be cited as:
MacDonald, L. T. A. O. T. (22 December 2018) AHRECS Human research ethics workshop in Thailand (2018). Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/ahrecs-admin/ahrecs-human-research-ethics-workshop-in-thailand

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