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What are Research Ethics?

Daniel Liden
By Daniel Liden
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Research ethics is a field of ethics that works to apply moral principles to scientific pursuits, particularly research. There are many different ethical issues, such as animal testing and weapons research and development, that come up in the course of scientific advancement. In general, the field of ethics is typically concerned with what is right and what is wrong in a very broad sense. In research, ethics are primarily concerned with what is acceptable and with what is unacceptable. Usually issues in research ethics involve those concerned with moral issues, but this is not always the case, especially considering the extremely subjective nature of ethics and morals.

Research ethics are of particular importance to researchers who conduct medical research. This is largely because a great deal of testing and trial work must be conducted before any medical research can be put into practice. In many cases, it would be easier and more efficient to test a dangerous drug on a human; doing so could potentially push useful medications to the market much sooner. It is, however, considered unethical to do so. Animal testing is another issue of research ethics that comes up in the area of medicine; many feel it is unethical to test drugs and procedures on animals as well.

Another serious concern in research ethics is the truthful and accurate presentation of research data in publications. Publishing false data is extraordinarily unethical, as it misleads future scientists as they build their ideas on false ideas. Not presenting unfavorable results is also considered unethical; failure to make a huge breakthrough does not mean that a failed experiment has nothing to add to science. It is of the utmost importance that all submitted research is complete and accurate because future scientific research may well be based on that research. If any possible human errors occurred in the course of the research, it is important they are also reported when the research results are published.

Research ethics also apply to what topics should and should not be researched at all, though this is a much more subjective area that is often entrenched in politics and religion. Many see weapons research as unethical because the product of such research will only be employed to take lives. Others see embryonic stem cell research as a major ethical issue because, to many, the embryos used are human lives that are extinguished for the sake of research. Many argue that science should not be influenced by religious, political, or even ethical issues—that the most important goal is adding to the overall body of human knowledge.

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