Babbie, Chapter 18

The four constraints in social science research are scientific, administrative, ethical, and political. Ethical and political constraints are the focus of Chapter 18.



 Social scientists generally agree on five basic principles in handling ethical concerns:

 A. Voluntary participation: Social researchers agree that participation in research should be voluntary. This principle is easier to accept than to apply in practice. Some research subjects, such as students and incarcerated persons, may volunteer because they believe that they will personally benefit from their cooperation. The ethical principle of voluntary participation can conflict with the scientific need for generalizability because volunteers may not be representative of the population of interest.

B. No harm to participants: Research should not harm those who participate in it, unless they willingly and knowingly accept the risks of harm. Social research can harm research subjects in several ways:

C. Anonymity and confidentiality: This principle is related to the previous one of protecting subjects from harm. A respondent is anonymous when the researcher cannot connect a given response with a given respondent. In confidential study, the researcher can identify a given person's responses but promises not to reveal this identity. Anonymity and confidentiality might conflict with reliability since repeated measurements would be difficult to obtain.

D. Deceiving subjects: Deceiving subjects is sometimes justified in circumstances where revealing a researcher's identity might force research subjects to modify their behavior. Debriefing subjects is recommended if it is at all necessary to lie to them.

E. Analysis and interpretation of data. The ethical obligations to one's colleagues in the scientific community require that we:

 CASE STUDIES OF ETHICAL VIOLATIONS: Several research projects reveal clear violations of ethical standards. Two of these studies are reviewed in Babbie - Trouble in the Tearoom and the Milgram Experiment. We will also watch a film on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in which black males believed that they were getting medical treatment for syphilis but they were getting no treatment at all. Consider the following issues while reviewing the case studies in the textbook and watching the film: Learning Check!
Discussion Examples on pages 449-450 of Babbie.


How do ethical and political concerns differ?

The principle that a researcher's political ideology should not interfere with or unduly influence her research enhances objectivity by means of intersubjectivity. The notion of "value-free sociology" (objectivity) has come under attack from scientists who believe that social science should be linked to social action, and should not be objective.

Case studies illustrating that political issues exist in social research

 Babbie concludes this section on politics with the following observations:

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