Research Question or Problem
In his article on research ethics in role-play and discussion, Rosnow (1990) clearly presented the ethical failures of only considering the cost and benefits of conducting ethically ambiguous research studies while ignoring the ethical costs of not conducting them. The purpose of the study was, therefore, to describe a teaching strategy involving role-play that could improve students’ skills and understanding of how to navigate a complex research ethics environment (Rosnow, 1990, p. 179).
In introducing the description, Rosnow (1990) first presents the rationale underlying the study and describes the significance of implementing the described strategy in teaching research methodology. Then, citing a previous relevant study by Rosenthal and Rosnow (1984), Rosnow argued that where a study, despite its ethical implications concerning deception or invasion of privacy, is likely to benefit a particular section of society significantly, failure to conduct such a study would be ethically improper. Finally, Rosnow (1990, p. 179) states that current teaching strategies only focus on the ethics of conducting the study. However, it is Rosnow’s (1990, p. 179) stance that a technique that considers three ethical points of view, namely that of the field of study, the population under study, and the researchers, should be considered.
Rosnow’s (1990) paper does not contain a traditional methodology as this paper does not describe an experiment or directly explore a research question. The purpose of this paper is to describe a classroom exercise, and it does so effectively. Rosnow (1990) describes his five-step classroom roleplay in sufficient detail for it to be used in social sciences classrooms. Students find recent articles they consider unethical, roleplay the author to defend them, and then rate them on their ethical and theoretical/practical value. This teaches students to consider the theoretical/practical value of research as part of its ethicality.
Rosnow’s (1990) paper does not contain a standard results section as it did not involve an experiment or any statistical tests. However, it did outline Rosnow’s (1990) proposed assertions about the nature of research ethics. Rosnow (1990) plotted the scores from his exercise on a plane with the moral costs of doing (or, in a separate plane, not doing) a study on the y-axis and theoretical/practical benefits of the research on the x-axis. Specifically, he argued that, by using this plot, you can roughly determine whether a study is ethically defensible by comparing the ethical costs of doing or not doing it to its value.
Discussion and Conclusions
In itself, the discussion section of the article is sparse, and mainly reinforces how the classroom roleplay relates back to the author’s primary thesis that the costs of not doing valuable research should be weighed in decision-making processes. The author arguably missed a valuable opportunity to discuss how this research could be expanded into something statistically meaningful. Although the described exercise might be useful for the sake of classroom exercise, it is not yet something statistically meaningful. It appears to resemble a graphic that illustrates the author’s point about research ethics rather than a tool for decision-making. With properly developed scales and experimental validation, this research could evolve beyond a classroom exercise and possibly become a procedure that outputs actual ethical viability scores for studies based on expert ratings.
The references are correctly cited, and are mostly recent in relation to the time of publication. Older references are used effectively as well, such as when Rosnow (1990) mentioned Milgram’s famously unethical studies on obedience to authority figures (see Miller, 1986) which are effective examples of the type of unethical research Rosnow aimed to discuss.
VII. Personal Reflection
The message that the author is trying to impart with this paper is meaningful, and something that does not appear to have been addressed previously in academic research. It is probably true that the ethical impact of not conducting a research study should be factored into evaluating the ethics of its methodology. However, it is also understandable why the American Psychological Association (APA) and the relevant Research Ethics Boards (REB) would want to focus more on the ethics surrounding the undertaking of the study. Researchers have control over their methodologies, but they do not have control over the impact that their study has on society or on the participants. Researchers can change their research methods to be more ethical, but they cannot change the results they get and whether the study reaches a wide audience.
On the other hand, the article highlights the ignored importance of research in the community. The factored in ethical implications on the lack of conducting detailed research shows that researchers should not be concerned about the benefits they get out of the study but also how their activities impact the sample and conclusive population. Research as a discipline should be more about solving problems in the community. If there is a potential issue to be researched, it is only ethically binding for researchers to do so. Ethics as governing norms in the research field, from what I have understood from the article, act as a reminder that it is not only about the steps undertaken by the researchers, although important, but also their obligation in the research field.
Miller, A.G. (1980). The obedience experiments: A case study of controversy in social science (p. 305). Praeger.
Rosnow, R.L. (1990). Teaching research ethics through role-play and discussion. Teaching of Psychology, 17(3), 179-181. doi:10.1207/s15328023top1703_10.