The history of research ethics in general and publication ethics more specifically was initially and primarily grounded in the biomedical sciences. As concern over issues of animal care, human participant protection and research integrity developed throughout the latter part of the 20th century, some members of the Social Sciences and Humanities communities raised concerns that the cultures in their particular disciplines differed and that a ‘one model fits all’ was inadequate to evaluate research ethics and publication ethics.
Most quantitative Social Science research involves research methodology that is similar in scope and nature to that found in the natural and biomedical sciences, including hypotheses testing, statistical analysis and is nested within long recognized scientific norms of investigation. This is also true with respect to quantitative studies with human subjects and participants. In many countries, the approval of research using either animal or human participants requires the researcher to obtain prior institutional research ethics approval before undertaking this type of research. Some researchers disagree with the requirement of prior ethics approval saying that their research is low risk and needs no review. These researchers sometimes do their work under the auspices of community groups and avoid institutional ethics review.
As well, there are disciplines which object to all such requirements or find them problematic to their particular fields of study. Many of the complaints concerning the need to recognize difference come from fields including: Ethnography, Anthropology, Sociology, Criminology, and some sub-disciplines in Psychology, Education and Social Work. This list is illustrative rather than exhaustive.
- Some Social Scientists have objected to institutional research boards on the grounds that such approval is heavy-handed and inappropriate as a tool to evaluate their research. They conduct their research through community groups and avoid institutional approval. How should editors handle such studies and manuscripts?
- What should editors do when they receive manuscripts from Social Scientists who have completed the research without institutional ethics approval?
- What guidelines do editors require to assess manuscripts where authors argue that their fields should be evaluated using very different criteria than is standard in terms of research ethics and research integrity than other fields of inquiry?
- Should publishers develop policy to deal with the claim by researchers that Social Science is different from other sciences and needs to be evaluated without ethics review?
- Should university exemptions be sufficient for editors to consider publishing manuscripts which have been deemed exempt from ethics review?
- How should editors determine whether to publish research on illegal activities and illegal behaviours?
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14 September 2021
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