Is Research-Ethics Review a Moral Panic? [*]

By Den Hoonaard, Will C. Van | The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Is Research-Ethics Review a Moral Panic? [*]

Den Hoonaard, Will C. Van, The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

Au cours des dix dernieres annees, nous avons ete temoins do l'importance croissante accordee aux principes d'ethique appliques a la recherche mais aussi de la popularite et de la pertinence grandissantes de la recherche inductive, plus connue sous le nom de recherche et d'analyse qualitatives. Dans cet article, nous etudions le contexte social dans lequel so situe l'examen deontologique des travaux de recherche et son influence sur la rocherche qualitative. Plus precisement, nous soutenons que, lorsque cet examen deontologique est fonde sur les principes et l'epistemologie do la recherche deductive, il a tendance a rogner et a entraver le dynamisme et l'objet de la recherche qualitative. A l'aide do documents, de rapports de recherche formelle et d'apres notre experience personnelle et celle d'autres collegues, nous demontrons l'aspect disproportionne de l'examen deontologique do la recherche, qui semble favoriser la recherche quantitative - c'est-a-dire la recherche formelle fondee sur des hypotheses --, au detriment do la recherche qualitative. Nos exemples proviennent surtout du Canada, des Etats-Unis et d'Angleterre, en anthropologie, education, sciences infirmieres, psychologie et sociologie. Nous affirmons que les processus sociaux qui sous-tendent l'analyse deontologique de la recherche s'apparentent a ceux quo l'on associe a une panique morale.

The recent decade saw not only the rise of the importance of formal ethical research guidelines, but also witnessed the growing popularity and relevance of inductive research, better known as qualitative research and analysis. This paper addresses the social context of formal ethical review and its influence on qualitative research. Specifically, it suggests that when ethical review is based on the principles and epistemology of deductive research, it tends to erode or hamper the thrust and purpose of qualitative research. Using documents, formal research accounts, and the experiences of others and myself, the author indicates the lopsided nature of reviewing the ethics of research, which seems to work in favour of quantitative, formal hypotheses-driven research, to the serious disadvantage of qualitative research. The paper draws most heavily on evidence in Canada, the United States, and England, in the fields of anthropology education, nursing, psychology, and sociology. The social processes underpinning re search-ethics review, the author avers, are similar to those associated with a moral panic.

ETHICAL REVIEW, as a broad-based approach to conducting scientific research, emerged from the aftermath of the horrors of World War II, when medical experiments furthered lugubrious social aims (Charbonneau, 1984: 20). The Nuremberg Code tried to forestall the use of such experiments by codifying viable, ethical guidelines for medical, scientific and social research, with particular emphasis on informed consent. While the Code remained an ethical hallmark, the history of scientific research would take at least another 50 years to catch up to the Nuremberg principles. As scientific experimentation with human subjects was thought to be directed toward more noble goals, the instances of such experiments ranged from exposing soldiers to atomic blasts (Welsome, 1999) to imposing medical procedures on prisoners or forensic in-patients, [1] to experimentation with drugs, whether LSD, DepoProvera, [2] or drugs near market entry

When the latent effects of these experiments became manifest-- often 20 or 30 years later--and with the subsequent rise of lawsuits, the public and government became acutely aware of the ethical implications of medical research and, indeed, of all research. First through professional societies and then more vigorously through the State, ethical guidelines became explicit.

During the latter years of this evolution of ethical norming, i.e., in the early 1990s, the Medical Council of Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada started the process of developing the Tri-Council Policy on Ethics Involving Human Subjects ("the Policy"). …

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