Ethical Issues in Social Research


Social research refers to the methodology used by scientists to study people and societies in that they develop products or services that cater for distinct demands of people. There must be the use of a systematic plan that comprises quality and quantity observational metrics. When it comes to ethical issues in social research, it means the raft of principles that lead a researcher in designing the practices that must be undertaken during various studies. In this case, research must have a universal standard that may include issues related to voluntarism, consent, and confidentiality, among others. Sometimes there is an argument that when dealing with social research, ethics matters should only be considered in covert observation research methodologies. Thus, it is possible to have ethical breaches in social research, as discussed below.

The Extent of Ethical Violation in Social Research

For one to understand covert observational research, they must go through the understanding of confidentiality and anonymity in a given study between research, researcher and the people being studied. Covert observation involves a scenario where the scientist, the study project, and the observed variations are systematically hidden from the individuals who are being studied. In social research, it is commonly referred to as undercover research’ since it may comprise of compiling data on behaviours, actions and communication for a given group of participants. With all these factors in mind, ethical violations have been rampant in sociological research due to increased cases of physical harm, breach of personal privacy and monitoring of people outside their normal settings. When ethical issues are only considered in covert observational research, chances are the other aspects of the social study may develop various adverse effects which lead to a breach of ethics.

While doing social research, not all provisions will be based on a study to reveal people’s characters so that they may be assisted. Sometimes research may be done to satisfy a growing demand to change socio-political issues for the betterment of society. Therefore, there may not be a need to conceal the research variables since the participants may be willing to cooperate to benefit directly from the preferred remedy concerning the explored problem. There should be no limit to where ethics must be applied in sociological research. The reason is that it is a requirement that scientist is respectful and shows responsibility on all fronts of their practice.

There are many scenarios in which ethics were breached, which serves as one of understanding the two sides of this discussion. For example, the 1942-1945 administration of horrific experiments on inmates by Nazi doctors in concentration camps did not seek participants’ consent. The human experimentation in that exercise was a form of covert observation research. Therefore, the proponents of ethics in such situations would be right to focus on consent requirements from the involved people due to the harm it caused them. Nevertheless, suppose the study was not directly confidential, does it mean there would be no need for ethical considerations in other forms of social research? Under that question, there is a mark of an epitome of a long journey of discussing how ethics may be violated in social research. The matter has remained a contentious issue in twilight for many researchers and participants.

The call for ethical considerations in social research is to ensure that human dignity is upheld, beneficence is evident, and justice is served. Apart from covert observational studies, research ethics must be applied in other perspectives to avoid violating the abovementioned factors. Professional competence is one of the issues that show how researchers fall prey to ethics concerns. The matter must be pressed beyond the current advocacy rate due to the liability it might entirely impact the study.

On a different note, there is a need to open eyes wide on this issue of ethics. For example, suppose a scientist is studying the challenges that may be faced by single parents. In that case, the study may lack professional competency if the basic idea behind the research is to help solve personal struggles with the same matter. In this case, a researcher may not assemble all the necessary research areas apart from where they have come across a negative aspect of the matter regarding the same matter. The outcome of the study may be a presentation of solutions and recommendations that may be based on a given gender but falsely alleges to help all the people. By conducting such research, it brings a solution to a negligible number of people; for that matter, ethical concerns raise concerning the study. Thus, the scenario would show how ethical violations may be rampant in social research.

When conducting biomedical research that may involve the contribution of human beings, a raft of ethical concerns usually arises. Privacy, in this case, matters due to the need to keep data anonymous from the participants for whom the information has been studied. It is important to note that disclosing personal details may come with a cost, especially when a participant’s health status, bodily deformities and mental capacities are exposed. Permission must be granted for a scientist to publish any personal detail since the matter can lead to discrimination, lack of trust and psychological trauma, which may deteriorate conditions for given cases. For example, sharing information from DNA patterns, databanks, quality assurance, and public health directives may be vital for developing advanced medical treatments. However, there is vulnerability when it comes to people who may be living with HIV/AIDS, substance abuse and genetic abnormalities, as depicted above. When data is carelessly for third parties to see, contributors may feel disrespected, worried, discriminated and harmed due to exposing their private details to the limelight.

Data access comprises essential tension between risk to participants and the benefit it has to sociology. As Figure 1 shows, the risk and gain to the researcher are directly affected by the metrics such as release, maximization and better objectivity in the study. For example, the Fragile Families Challenge was a beneficial study towards knowing the lives of less-privileged people in the US. However, the research undertaken in the 21st century posed heightened questions about ethics due to privacy issues breached in the study. The data collected was potentially identifiable upon thorough enquiry, which means victims may be attacked on various grounds.

Tension between risk ad benefits of data access to research
Figure 1: Tension between risk ad benefits of data access to research

Social research may involve a significant amount of deception, which is a critical ethical issue in research. A scientist who misleads participants for their selfishness falls short of this ethical consideration. In many cases, a researcher deceives on a given key matter in the study. Due to that, feedback to subjects might be characterized by false beliefs concerning a person, a relationship between an individual to another and manipulation of self-esteem. As seen, these impacts are felt by human beings, and they all fall under social research. TheThe key factor in this scenario is to produce data that may be useful to society without tampering with the process.

Where covert procedures are used, it becomes easy for a scientist to interfere with information to suit what they desire and thus, forcing a certain impression derived from a given study. For example, in psychological studies, studying how emotions influence decisions is a key subject that probes researchers to lie to their participants since they require an authentic reaction from the participants during the study. Although it has significance in research goals, it triggers questions about the integrity of the person undertaking the study. Thus, the extent to which ethical violations are evident in social research is shown from all the above factors.


Ethical violations ensue when a researcher does not follow standard guidelines concerning privacy, informed consent, psychical harm and reality to the participant. The extent to which ethical violations have been noticed poses a tangible risk to the credibility of the research. An example of how ethics may be questioned is during a biomedical study where the participants may be used as guinea pigs to test a certain clinical process, as happened to inmates in the 1940s. Ethical breaches are rampant when there is no data privacy or deception is prioritized to obtain significant relevance in a given study. A researcher must be careful not to violate their study’s ethical provisions for an effective research work.

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