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Balancing ethical quandaries with scientific rigor: Part 2

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By Pallikkathayil L, Crighton F, Aaronson LS • www.ProHealth.com • August 25, 1998


Traditional ethical concerns in research tend to focus on serious
misconduct such as fabricating data and gross violations of
informed consent. In this two-part article, we focused on some
of the less serious and more subtle ethical quandaries,
inherent and common in most social science research. It is our
thesis that these issues are important and warrant more
attention and careful thought than they have been accorded in
the scientific literature and, perhaps, by investigators at
large. In Part 2, we provided examples of how we, and others,
dealt with some of these issues in actual studies. However, we
also must emphasize the individual and reflective nature of
confronting ethical issues in research. We found many benefits
in using a team approach to address ethical dilemmas during
implementation of our studies. Doing so kept everyone honest
with themselves and each other, shared the burden of
responsibility among team members for the decisions made,
maximized the use of team members' strengths, and led to much
better resolutions of the issues from both a scientific and an
ethical perspective. Maintaining scientific rigor while
balancing and deliberating about the ethical implications of
decisions is a challenge for all research teams. It requires
learning how to be vigilant and responsive when faced with the
many subtle, but ever-present, scientific and ethical
quandaries encountered when doing what is often assumed to be
nonthreatening social research. There are no fixed,
prescriptive rules for what to do in every study. Rather, a
reflective process, considering the specific issues of each
unique study, is required.




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