Theory, Method and Design

Beliefs about knowledge. Beliefs about the nature of reality influence researchers’ views on methodology and the products of research. When knowledge is considered intrinsically good, notions of censorship or limitation of research are unacceptable. However, when knowledge is considered as a form of power, the question of access to that power becomes an ethical issue. Similarly, when reality is considered something “out there” that can be studied objectively, methods such as deception seem more appropriate than when reality is regarded as a construction composed of interaction between researcher and participant in which trust is important. A better understanding of stakeholders’ beliefs about the nature of knowledge, and factors influencing these beliefs, is needed to inform understanding of how various stakeholders view science.

Validity. For research to be ethical, it must be valid. However, other ethical considerations may impact validity, such as consent procedures that may muddle one’s random sampling design. How are these dilemmas resolved so that research compromises neither the autonomy and well-being of subjects, nor validity? How can rigor and respect be jointly optimized?

Modeling. Modeling may be employed to improve accuracy and sophistication of prediction and empirical tests of complex ideas, e.g., about health, financial status, or education. It may improve sampling strategies, enable investigators to impute missing data, design more appropriate research and better estimate the number of subjects needed. How can this sophisticated methodology be put to optimal use in the service of ethics?

Equitable treatment of participants. Issues of distributive and procedural justice arise in the process of planning, conducting and applying research, and call for empirical research. Many questions arise concerning ethical treatment of participants, such as: When is it unethical to withhold information about the sponsorship of research from subjects? Who benefits from the research? How are participants selected? When is random assignment or use of placebos acceptable?

Technology, efficiency & sampling. New technologies and combinations thereof may be used to recruit, contact or observe subjects. What happens when these are used? Is science improved? Are ethical criteria met?

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