Balancing ethical quandaries with scientific rigor: Part 2

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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