Empirical research on research ethics

Ethics and Behavior 14 (4):397 – 412 (2004)
Ethics is normative; ethics indicates, in broad terms, what researchers should do. For example, researchers should respect human participants. Empirical study tells us what actually happens. Empirical research is often needed to fine-tune the best ways to achieve normative objectives, for example, to discover how best to achieve the dual aims of gaining important knowledge and respecting participants. Ethical decision making by scientists and institutional review boards should not be based on hunches and anecdotes (e.g., about such matters as what information potential research participants would want to know and what they understand, or what they consider to be acceptable risks). These questions should be answered through empirical research. Some of the preceding articles in this special issue illustrate uses of empirical research on research ethics. This article places empirical research on research ethics into broader perspective and challenges investigators to use the tools of their disciplines to proactively solve ethical problems for which there currently exist no empirically proven solutions.
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