Becoming an ethical researcher
Becoming an ethical researcher

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Becoming an ethical researcher

1 Aristotle’s guidance on virtuous behaviour

Described image
Figure 2 Gaining guidance from Aristotle

It is difficult to discuss ethics for long without coming across references to guidance by Aristotle. Now that you have met a number of contemporary researchers and considered ethical choices in imaginary scenarios, this is a good time to highlight the relevance of Aristotle’s thinking to contemporary researchers.

Aristotle’s views on living a good life through finding a path between extremes, something he referred to as the Doctrine of the Mean (or the middle way) have been interpreted by MacFarlane (2009, 2010) as guidance for researchers in contemporary times. In the first activity, you will watch an animation to find out how virtues such as courage and sincerity should form part of a virtuous approach to research.

Activity 1 Identifying vices and virtues

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes for Part A, 10 minutes for Part B and 10 minutes for Part C

Part A

Watch the animation for an overview of virtues and vices in relation to six stages of research.

Download this video clip.Video player: ethics_aristotle_titles.mp4
Skip transcript

Transcript

SPEAKER
For Aristotle, every virtue of character lies between two vices. We have way too much at one end and way too little at the other and virtue being just the right amount. He was talking about how to live a good life. But McFarlane has used this wisdom to propose how we might conduct ethical research. For McFarlane, there are six stages when researchers need to consider ethical concerns and walk Aristotle's virtuous path.
When negotiating, the virtuous path is one of respect-- respect for your participants, avoiding manipulating them or favoring one particular group over others. And when creating, the virtuous path is one of sincerity-- sincerity about how you analyze your data, avoiding exaggerating claims, or being too timid to challenge assumptions or raise difficult findings. And so with a little 2000-year-old wisdom, an ethical researcher can walk the virtuous path.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
End transcript
 
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Now sort these six stages of research into the correct order and place each one in the column on the left:

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Disseminating – through publication or performance
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Generating – collecting data, ideas
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Creating – related to results, interpretations, critiques and models or theoretical insights
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Negotiating – gaining access, permissions, consent and support
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Framing – setting questions or hypotheses
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Reflecting – on personal learning about the process of research
Words: 0
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Answer

  • Framing – setting questions or hypotheses
  • Negotiating – gaining access, permissions, consent and support
  • Generating – collecting data, ideas
  • Creating – related to results, interpretations, critiques and models or theoretical insights
  • Disseminating – through publication or performance
  • Reflecting – on personal learning about the process of research

You might have found it hardest to place ‘Reflecting’ in order, because an ethical researcher should be reflecting throughout the research process.

Part B

Watch the animation in Part A again.

Then look at the lists below, of research activities related to the negotiating and creating phases of research.

Indicate whether you think the behaviour could represent an ethical virtue or unethical vice depending on the context. In each case the researcher has a choice.

Negotiating

Guest users do not have permission to interact with embedded questions.

Creating

Guest users do not have permission to interact with embedded questions.

Discussion

You might have found it difficult to make a judgment. For example, for the negotiating activity, you might have found it most difficult to decide about the use of financial incentives. It is sometimes defensible to use incentives. Consider the following guidance from the British Educational Research Association ethical guidelines for educational research:

Researchers’ use of incentives to encourage participation should be commensurate with good sense, such that the level of incentive does not impinge on the free decision to participate. Payment for participation in educational research is generally discouraged, not least because of the extra burden of cost that the extension of this practice would place on the practice of research. The use of incentives should be acknowledged in any reporting of the research.

(BERA, 2018, p. 19)

You will have a chance to think about this issue further in Activity 3 in relation to a particular research project.

It is not always straightforward to judge whether a behaviour or action is virtuous or would be considered a vice; a researcher needs to remain open to a range of actions and commit to being reflective about their merits in the specific context of the research they are leading.

Part C

Write notes on the following:

  • Which of Aristotle’s concepts of virtues and vices add to your understanding of becoming an ethical researcher?
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
  • Is there anything that puzzles you?
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

In the next section, you will look at how accountability to others matters in teamwork, and you will return to virtues and vices at the end of this session.

EE831_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371