‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’- Hamlet William Shakespeare
To consider ethics in media research, one would first search for what is and isn’t ethical. Therein lays the beginning of a complicated process of acting under the fluid definition of ethics. Ethics are defined by Tinkler as “widely agreed moral principles about what is right and wrong” (Tinkler 2013). These “ethical practises” are decided upon by ethics committees, funders and the institutions in which the researchers are conducting their study (Tinkler 2013). It is these fluid definitions behind which humanity is protected. Ethics were designed so that basic human rights and dignities would not be ignored in the quest for knowledge, but would rather guide the search.
However there is no overall governing body for these practises, and ethical standards from one institution or study to another can vary greatly. It is generally agreed upon that the ethical gathering of data will adhere to these rules: all test subject must voluntarily participate, no harm will come to them- either physically or emotionally- and that all results will maintain anonymity and confidentiality of the participants.
This then throws up another barrier for researchers: how will these unavoidable frameworks effect the collection of data?
Is it enough to ensure an accurate selection a variety of humans, including a diversity of nationalities, ages, genders, life experiences and socio-economic status?
Or are we missing an undefined sub-set of personality types; that is people who wouldn’t volunteer for a social research projects?
Even if the research information is gathered under ethical standards, this does not ensure that the final result will be ethical. Data processing must also be conducted in a non-bias, objective way that protects the welfare of the research participants by displaying high levels of honesty and integrity, free from plagiarism (Weerakkody, 2008). This too brings up many questions about what is and isn’t ethical. Researchers are often plagued by concerns that their research may tote on the borderline between moral and immoral, while in the past other researchers have abused this grey area in order to sway the findings of a paper.
In this betrayal of the trust we have in the overarching protection of ethics, we also become less likely to trust other, possibly completely legitimate papers. When unprincipled research is discovered, institutes may have to review hundreds of papers to check for maintenance of ethical practises, other legitimate research that has extrapolated data from falsified papers will have to be rectified and the general public may become less likely to believe future papers after a scandal of mishandled information is revealed. As there are no formal laws in Australia that can hold researchers to ethical practises, we can only rely on the integrity of the researchers, and failing that, the fear of repercussion from their institute, future sponsors and their peers.
Ethical practises are all that stands between the sake of humanity and the pursuit of knowledge or recognition. It is under the guidelines of ethical practises that research flourishes, in a way that is beneficial to all humankind.
Tinkler, Penny 2013, ‘Ethical issues and legalities’, in Using photographs in social and historical research, SAGE, London, pp. 195-208
Weerakkody, Niranjala Damayanthi 2008, ‘Research ethics in media and communication’, in Research methods for media and communications, Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand, South Melbourne, Vic., pp. 73-91