Why Are Ethics Important in Research?

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Ethics are extremely important for setting boundaries in research to determine what science can and cannot do, and the difference between right and wrong.

Research is the key to progress in science. However, the steps taken during research must be carefully considered for its ethical methodologies and also implications. If research is not ethically sound, then the process and results are in question. For example, unethical research can include studies that are swayed by ulterior motives, including corporate-sponsored or industry-sponsored studies that are designed to achieve a specific result in favor of their motives.

Ethics During Research

Ethical research requires attention during its entire process from brainstorming to presentation to the public. In particular, it comes into play during the testing phases, especially when there’s animal or human testing involved. For example, ethical research with human subjects is done responsibly by reducing the harm to the people as much as possible and by respecting a person’s rights and dignity.

Codes of Ethics

While most institutions and organizations have an established code of ethics for their researchers, ethics itself is not a black and white subject. In fact, ethics is something that is interpreted. Its meaning differs greatly from person to person. For this reason, there are controversies and clashes within the science community and within society at large on certain topics.

Ethical Controversies

A good example of a controversial issue of ethics in research is surrounding stem cell research. Stem cell research uses human embryos, which have cells with extraordinary characteristics. These embryos are created from in vitro fertilization clinics with permission from the donors. However, the overarching question is whether it’s moral to take stem cells from developed embryos for research purposes. Proponents argue that the research will help save lives, whereas opponents believe that it is immoral to do this type of research. This is based on the fact that stem cell research uses the blastocyst, which is an unimplanted embryo after it’s been developing for six to eight days. For some, six to eight days is long enough to consider the embryo as a person. Regardless of the societal views and disagreements, the importance of ethics in carrying out this type of research is paramount.

Examples of Unethical Research

If it were not for ethical standards during research, people could be harmed or subjected to experiments without their consent. For example, the U.S. military exposed over 60,000 of their own personnel to mustard gas in an highly unethical experiment during World War II. The men were not told what the experiment was before they agreed to it; they were subjected to mustard gas and chemical attacks so the military could test gas masks, protective clothing and the effects of the chemicals according to race, with white soldiers being used as a control group.

Importance of Ethical Research

Ethics is not limited to the treatment of human and animal subjects. It also extends to the underlying motives and moral considerations of the experiment. An experiment, which is unethical as an idea, cannot be considered ethical simply because the research follows an ethical procedure.

For scientific research to be called truly progressive and beneficial to humankind, it must be ethical and right. Any research that has dark motives, or aims to hurt the population in any shape or form, is unethical and should be disregarded by the public.