Following several patterns of research in the field of social science done during earlier times, it was found that research was done in a clearly unethical way. The standards of professional ethics were blatantly violated. It needed professional codes and standards to live up to. The ASA is one such organization that has attempted to overcome this deficiency in the field. The website provides many topics in professional ethics that has to be taken care of during social science research. One of the major topics that has to be dealt with while thinking about Professional ethics during Research is that of Informed Consent.
Informed Consent: As part of the Professional Ethical Code, sociologists would not willingly involve a human being in research unless the subject has given his/her free, willing and unbiased consent. The subject is informed that he is free to participate in the research and refuse if need be. This ethical tenet is never overlooked by researchers while conducting research on the section of human populations. If the participant is severely handicapped, mentally unable to make decision or if the person is a minor, the consent is taken from a legal representative of the participant. This is taken into special consideration because it has been agreed that coercions of very subtle nature can exist while research is being conducted, if the researcher is a superior, or a person of authority or expertise. Though it sounds simple at first sight, the matter is particularly complex.
Usually, the wide methodologies and the huge range of topics on which research is done, makes it often very difficult to get the needed consent. Since the issue is critical and serious the matter is considered important by the government. The results will be influenced in the wrong direction, if some type of manipulation or pressure is brought upon the participants. This is true, especially if they are subordinates or children. The information or participation should not cause any harm to the participants and this too increases the difficulty in getting consent as some of the information or methods may not be comprehensible to children or put them in previously unforeseen circumstances. Such cases makes obtaining informed consent much complex (Topic: Informed Consent).
The case of research done by Theo Guraki and his team is a good example of the influence of information and prejudice on the results of research. The team was conducting a research on a home-assistance service program. They wanted to evaluate the services of the program. They went to conduct research on site. After taking all the precautions and procedures on consent, they started visiting home on the purposes of survey. They expected that people would be reluctant to cooperate with the surveys. To their complete surprise, almost everyone co-operated completely. This was because the surveyed people came under the impression that they would lose the services that was delivered by the agency if they said the wrong word. It is certainly failure on the part of Theo. He should have prepared the case better.
Though he is obliged to say that he is conducting the study, he should not have revealed the possible outcome of the study and he should have revealed the aims of the study. It is also to be noted that Theo did not consider it strange that almost none of the participants refused or gave negative evaluation. The main point revealed by the ASA is about the lack of planning from the part of Theo. He should have been aware that everything was not well with the high level of cooperation he was receiving. He should have known that he should provide a statement saying that no services would be lost. An explanation that the whole program was being evaluated and not the services were being evaluated would have clarified the research and brought in better results. The case being one of vulnerable populations, it was imperative that he conducted the research in a much more lucid and clear way (Case 50. Informed Consent with Vulnerable Populations).
Professor Kathleen McGorty was appointed to conduct research on integration of individuals into the communities of the Southwest. As she visits the participants she discovers that the participants have not been informed of the research that is going to be conducted. This is a clear violation of the ethical code of informed consent. The target population is among the vulnerable populations and they need to be informed about the research that is being done, which would affect their status somehow.
It is also to be considered that one of the preconditions to take informed consent is that the candidate should be able to make decisions individually. The target population in this case, had been deprived of their rights, being in a mental asylum. Even though they were incapable of decision during the state of their disease, now they have been rehabilitated. So, they should be considered as individuals and it would be wrong to consider them to be mental patients still. They have been released and it is the duty of the researcher and a question of ethics that they are informed about the research that is being done.
One of the points that ASA tries to clarify is that traditional scientific research makes it clear, who is to be categorised as vulnerable populations. In such cases a legal representative would suffice. Even an institutional review board can be considered to validate the situation. But these medically defined cases do not offer so much complication as that of the minority populations like that of young people involved with gangs or drugs, illegal immigrants. These are not easily categorised, which might make the researchers vulnerable. The ASA suggests framing new rules for the protection of sources in this regard (Case 52. Vulnerable Populations).
The Human Terrain System is aimed at understanding the local culture where the American military is deployed. They would try to understand the gaps in the soldiers’ knowledge of the local culture and try to fill them in. For this, they are employing the help of the social science researchers and civilian anthropologists. The HTS is run by the Department of Defence. These researchers help in handling conflicts that would arise from the cultural difference between the soldiers and the native Muslim farmers. But the initiative of the researchers is opposed by people like Dr. Hugh Gusterson because this goes against the very fundamental ethics of social scientists.
He says that such researchers are violating two main ethical codes of the community. The first one is that the researcher should not do any harm, directly or indirectly to the participants in the study. There is an outright violation of this tenet. According to him, such researchers are accomplices in the killing or imprisonment of the locals. The information provided by the researching scientist is being used for arresting the insurgent or sympathizers. On the other hand, the locals face danger from their own countrymen. Just by talking with the soldiers, these farmers could be facing serious reprisals. The next tenet is that of informed consent. This implies cooperation of the participants should be free from any sort of pressure or coercion. When a group of soldiers armed to their teeth show up at your doorstep, it is truly difficult for anyone to refuse the consent. Though the soldiers assure them of safe withdrawal, a true refusal to talk is not seen among the group of villagers (Flintoff).
The main reason for the failure of the soldiers to give adequate protection to the community is that they cannot actually recognize who is who in that society. Anybody could be taking sides with the Taliban, and religion is a major force among the community. Anyone who talks with soldiers will be treated as taking sides with the foreigners and will automatically be treated as traitors to the community and religion. This might be the major reason for the failure of our soldiers in providing protection to the Afghan villagers (Human terrain system).