In this chapter we explore the ethics of scientific research in psychology. We begin with a general framework for thinking about the ethics of scientific research in psychology. Then we look at some specific ethical codes for biomedical and behavioral researchers —focusing on the Ethics Code of the American Psychological Association. Finally, we consider some practical tips for conducting ethical research in psychology.
- 3.0: Prelude to Research Ethics
- In 1998 a medical journal called The Lancet published an article of interest to many psychologists. The researchers claimed to have shown a statistical relationship between receiving the combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the development of autism—suggesting furthermore that the vaccine might even cause autism. One result of this report was that many parents decided not to have their children vaccinated, which of course put them at higher risk for measles, mumps, and rubella.
- 3.1: Moral Foundations of Ethical Research
- Ethics is the branch of philosophy that is concerned with morality—what it means to behave morally and how people can achieve that goal. It can also refer to a set of principles and practices that provide moral guidance in a particular field. There is an ethics of business, medicine, teaching, and of course, scientific research. Many kinds of ethical issues can arise in scientific research, especially when it involves human participants.
- 3.2: From Moral Principles to Ethics Codes
- The general moral principles of weighing risks against benefits, acting with integrity, seeking justice, and respecting people’s rights and dignity provide a useful starting point for thinking about the ethics of psychological research because essentially everyone agrees on them. However, even people who agree on these general principles can disagree about specific ethical issues that arise in the course of conducting research. This is why there exist detailed and enforceable ethics codes.
- 3.3: Putting Ethics Into Practice
- In this section, we look at some practical advice for conducting ethical research in psychology. Again, it is important to remember that ethical issues arise well before you begin to collect data and continue to arise through publication and beyond.