Research Ethics

After listening to the lecture today, I can’t help but think how much time and thought needs to go into ethics with regard to human subjects. Before listening to this lecture, I knew research ethics was a big deal (for things such as emotionally unstable people, etc.), but I never realized how much  of a big deal it really is!! One of the comments that shocked me most was when Dean Sharpe was discussing the encryption of servers to keep information confidential. It’s as though having the information held in a safe place just isn’t enough. 

Another thing that was very interesting to me that I took from Dean Sharpe’s presentation is that with regard to informed consent, you need to articulate that it’s NOT a contract. If I hadn’t listened to this lecture, I would have assumed that informed consent is indeed similar to a contract. However, the human subject needs to be explained that they can withdraw from the study at any given time, and they’re not obliged to participate until the end. This seems to be rather important when conducting research on human subjects, as it would make them (at least I believe it would) make them feel much more comfortable giving the researcher their consent to participate in the study. 

I’m interested in hearing what you guys thought was interesting information given by Dean Sharpe, did any of you also find some of this information extremely surprising?


Victoria Grant 



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6 responses to “Research Ethics

  1. I agree with you about the idea of encryption, but as soon as he said it, the notion made perfect sense. The whole idea around protection of personal information as well as access to it comes into play. It is such a complex issue that there are multiple laws that govern it (MFIPPA R.S.O. 1990, CHAPTER M.56; FIPPA R.S.O. 1990, CHAPTER F.31; Access to Information Act R.S.C., 1985, c. A-1; Privacy Act R.S.C., 1985, c. P-21) and those are just the Ontario and Canadian Federal laws, not even touching international laws and ISO regulations.

    I think that you hit my other aha moment spot on. “It is not a contract” what? But it does make sense when you tie into the issue that the volunteer owes us nothing, and that the whole idea of informed consent is an ongoing conversation not a contractual obligation.

    Very interesting Stuff.

    Ben S.

    (sorry for the double post if you noticed it, it re posted instead of editing the spelling error that I was trying to fix)

  2. It’s understandable why there is such a pressure surrounding appropriate ethical research when looking more in depth on the issue. For example, the Milgram Experiment: After taking a look at this research study it’s evident that ethical practices need to be instilled into research projects.

    Victoria Grant

  3. Liz

    When I think of the issues in research ethics, the following questions always come up:

    Should study be approved based on the importance of a study to the society?

    In the other word, whether the need and benefit of the study outweigh the potential harm it might cause? How to balance these different interests?

    Particularly, in the life and death situation where pharmaceutical companies use human subjects for drug test in the third world countries. This is completely unethical. However, the drug could save lives worldwide.

    What do you guys think?

    Thank you.


  4. I really enjoyed Dean Sharpe’s presentation. I thought the biggest challenge would be to find a great, original research study to carry out. Now I think it may be overcoming obstacles associated with ethical considerations! For this reason, I am even more inclined to think very carefully about the methodology before I decide on a research question. It may be a little backward, but I think that it’s important to make sure the study is ethical and feasible before too much time is spent on developing the question, literature review, etc.
    I liked how, when Dean Sharpe provided very important information, he would repeat it twice, as for example the encryption of servers. I am such a low-key computer user that I previously thought a password would be good enough!


    • vangorpb

      Hey Camille,
      Encrypting isn’t as big of a hurdle as you would think. I am fairly sure your average winzip program can give you basic encryption that can be unlocked with a password, so it isn’t just password guarded but encrypted as well (in case someone finds some way to circumvent that). Now of course this is me speaking from my experience with work, the Tri- Council guidelines may require more sophisticated methods.
      That being said, I wouldn’t let this kind of talk push you away from research so long as you are using a method that is widely used in academia. These guidelines aren’t meant to prevent research so much as protect it, and there are ways of gathering the same info without violating ethics rules. None of us are probably going to be attempting to research things similar to the Stanford Prison Experiments ( if you are interested in times when research gets really questionable).
      What I found most interesting was the methodical nature of it all. Thinking about ethics means that you have to plan for every bit of information gathering you do. This means even if you have an unexpected opportunity to access a new source of information, you will have to make sure it follows your ethics submission rather than simply asking “hey can I have your email to possibly get your group involved in this study.” Its already helped me in my work I must say.

  5. Victoria,
    I read your comment when you first posted it thought I should reply, and then completely forgot about it!
    I agree with your comment about informed consent *not* being a contract. That took me somewhat by surprise as well. Up until this point I had assumed that a person participating in the study would sign a contract, if only to protect their own interests. But perhaps it is important that their agreement to participate in the study be specifically framed as not being a contract. I remember when I read about the Standford Prison experiment when I was completing the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans Course on Research Ethics earlier this year. One of the (many) problems with that experiment was that the “prisoners” we’re under the impression that they couldn’t leave, which goes entirely contrary to the spirit of research ethics as explained by Dean Sharpe.

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