An examination of ethical issues pertaining to
Reason guides our attempt to understand the world
about us. Both reason and compassion guide our efforts to apply
that knowledge ethically, to understand other people, and have ethical
relationships with other people.
Molleen Matsumura, Church-State Activist and Outreach Director of
the National Centre for Science Education (NCSE)
It must be accepted that the society of today is replete with ethical
lapses and moral ambiguity. Any attempt to resolve the inherent
inconsistencies, obvious contradictions and cognitive conundrums
that are pervasive within the minefield of ethical dilemmas researched
for this paper would be a Herculean task beyond mere mortal ability
and fraught with tautologies. For this reason, no definitive answers
are proffered, as the author believes that no definitive answers
are possible, merely prescriptive contingent discriminations to
resolve the current impasse. To assist in this process allusion
will be made to some of the conclusive points made by some of the
authors already cited within this paper.
Eisenhart (2001) has no specific answers to the dilemmas confronted
by ethnographers. In her final remarks she concludes:
ethnographers will rarely, if ever, be in leadership positions.
Instead, we will have to participate, along with others, with
one perspective or voice among many. We will have to be clear
about our own agendas and commitments. We will have to speak what
we know and believe in, but we will also have to listen, deliberate,
negotiate, and compromise around the knowledge and beliefs of
others who are involved. Perhaps needs identified out of everyday
experience, such as for adequate nutrition, medical care, or educational
opportunity, should be the basis for intervention. Perhaps agreed-upon
principles, such as justice or equality, should be the basis.
Perhaps some combination of the two or some others. Specific plans
for change will have to emerge from local deliberation and collaboration
around the various possibilities.
(Eisenhart 2001: 24)
The point made by Christians tends to reinforce this very issue
when he says that: ‘Only a reintegration of autonomy and the
moral order provides an alternative paradigm for the social sciences
today’ (2000: 135).
Perhaps, the very ethical principles that are currently so much
in vogue are outdated and need to be reviewed in light of current
circumstances and actual practices.
As Punch observes: ‘a strict application of codes’
may ‘restrain and restrict’ a great deal of ‘innocuous’
and ‘unproblematic’ research (1994:
90). Punch goes on to say that encoding privacy protection is
meaningless when ‘there is no consensus or unanimity on what
is public and private’ (1994: 94).
Christians asserts that:
the moral task cannot be reduced to professional ethics. How
the moral order works itself out in community formation is the
issue, not first of all what practitioners consider virtuous.
The challenge for those writing culture is not to limit their
moral perspectives to their own codes of ethics, but to understand
ethics and values in terms of everyday life.
(Christians 2000: 147)
Cohen et al. deduce that:
However inexperienced in these [ethical] matters researchers
are, they will bring to the world of social research a sense of
rightness on which they can construct a set of rational principles
appropriate to their own circumstances and based on personal,
professional, and societal values.
(Cohen et al. 2001: 71)
Eisner and Peshkin remark that:
Clearly, researchers need both cases and principles from which
to learn about ethical behaviour. More than this, they need two
attributes: the sensitivity to identify an ethical issue and the
responsibility to feel committed to acting appropriately in regard
to such issues.
(Eisner and Peshkin 1990:
Gomm exposes that:
the difference between researchers adopting a value-neutral policy
towards research and those who adopt a politically committed position
underlies important differences in interpretation of what is ethical
conduct for researchers.
(Gomm 2004: 321)
May warns that:
Overall, rigid and inflexible sets of ethical rules for social
research (deontology) could leave us with undesirable consequences.
Going so far down this ethical road, we might also conclude that
the only safe way to avoid violating principles of professional
ethics is to refrain from doing social research altogether.
(May 2001: 61)
Pring attests that:
the values of a democratic community would seem to be essential
for the tradition of educational research which serves the many
interested parties and which can give assurance that, through
openness to criticism, it will at least approximate to the truth.
(Pring 2001: 155)
Smith rationalizes that:
The core of the resolution of value conflicts is to treat the
values as dimensional concepts and ask oneself how much of one
value one is willing to give up for how much of another value.
And that is a very difficult intellectual process in complex practical
(Smith 1990: 274)
Soltis expounds that:
Whether codes of proper professional conduct are made explicit
or remain implicitly embedded in the practices of the group to
which one belongs is not the point, even though making such norms
explicit may be desirable. The point is that membership in a professional
community carries with it binding collective obligations and forces
us to view ethics from a shared perspective.
(Soltis 1990: 250)
It must be fully accepted that the more contemporary approaches
to educational research do not meet all the principles or guidelines
that have been the ethical tenets used by the profession to date.
However, it must also be stated that these approaches have added
to our knowledge within this field and in the majority of cases
no actual harm has been caused as a direct result of the process.
This being said we effectively have choices. We can outlaw these
approaches on the grounds that they contravene certain ethical principles.
We can adopt the principles to incorporate these new approaches.
We can give a dispensation to these new approaches, which will allow
them to continue, but with a clear conscience, or we can avoid taking
any action and hope the problem goes away. Obviously the latter
solution is not a real solution but appears to be the main stance
adopted by many institutions that have not attempted to reconcile
the current dilemma. Perhaps some combination of the first three
solutions might be a more plausible approach and would ensure that
all the vested parties directly affected by any resolution could
be appeased. Care must be taken to ensure that any constraint placed
on the researcher will not be unduly onerous or impede the functionality
of their undertakings. Flexibility would have to be a key factor
in the negotiation of any universal approach to resolving the current
As stated earlier, perhaps it is impossible to realistically resolve
all of the dilemmas that the problems with these conventional approaches
to research present. However, the noble nature of the profession
alluded to earlier and all those entrusted with its governance owe
a duty of care to those working in this field. The general public
too are guided by the wisdom of the profession and its researchers
and so there is an onus on the governing bodies of the educational
sector to resolve the current impasse and restore full confidence
to all research methodologies being prractised by their agents.