HUMAN RESEARCH ETHICS

RESEARCH MERIT AND INTEGRITY

PART B:
A Case Study: Opportunity to Identify Etthical Issues Related to Research Merit and Integrity

Read the following case study and answer the question that follows. This is not a test of your knowledge of research ethics: it is simply to give you the opportunity to say what you think are the ethical issues that relate to research merit and integrity and to receive feedback on what you have said.

Road v Rail

In the context of a national debate about the relative efficiency and safety of road or rail transport for long distance transport of manufactured goods, the State University's Centre for Transport Research has accepted a commission from the Long Distance Trucking Association (LDTA), the national body for the road transport industry, to conduct a research project of industry and public opinion about road transport. Essentially, the research question is: is inter-state road transport of manufactured goods safer and more efficient than rail transport and why?

The Centre for Transport Research was established by the State University after its recently appointed leader, Angus Macadam, conducted a highly regarded study that compared long distance transport of coal by road and rail for the State government. As a result of the status that the study earned, the government has retained the Centre to conduct future research on the safety and efficiency of rail transport, although there are no current studies.

Before Angus Macadam was appointed to his present position, he had been, like his father, a long distance truck driver and a vocal member of the driver's union. After a fatal level crossing accident in which his father died, he left the trucking industry and studied transport economics and secured a teaching post in that subject.

This study for the LDTA is to use the following methods:

  1. a quantitative survey of all customers of the members of the LDTA;

  2. a quantitative web-based survey of public opinion, conducted anonymously from the Centre's website;

  3. Qualitative interviews with drivers employed by members of the LDTA, of whom some, and perhaps many, had been fellow union members with Macadam or had worked under his direction; and

  4. qualitative interviews with key officials of the 10 highest use clients of members of the LDTA about why they use road transport.

The LDTA has advised the Centre that if there is an increase in the use of road transport for long distance carriage of manufacture goods within a year of the publication of the results of the study, it will pay a 10% bonus to the centre.

QUESTIONS

If you were asked to be a co-researcher in this study or a member of an ethics review body reviewing this study, and needed to be satisfied that the project met the value and principle of research merit and integrity, what would you want to know before you agreed to be part of the team or approved the study?

The material that you have reviewed in Part A of this Module will assist you to identify the ethical matters that relate to the value of research merit and integrity.

You may well identify other matters of research ethics that relate to one or more of the other key values of the National Statement, but the focus of this Module is on research merit and integrity.

You are encouraged to write your answers to this question in the box below. This is not a test but rather an opportunity to see whether the issues you identify are the same, in substance, as those that can be accessed by selecting the "Show Answer" tab below the box.

Matters that would be likely to concern co-researchers and human research ethics committee members include:

  1. What is the benefit of the study if it does not make any comparison to rail transport?
  2. What is the basis in prior research for the choice of the research methods?
  3. Will the offer from the LDTA influence the way that the study is conducted, or its results are expressed and published or compromise respect for participants? How will this be avoided?
  4. Are the members of the research team sufficiently competent in qualitative research methods?
  5. How will the interviewees be selected?
  6. What are the full terms of the retainer of the Centre from the government?
  7. Does the retainer from the government constitute a conflict of interest and if so how can this be overcome?
  8. Has the Centre disclosed to the LDTA the retainer from the government?
  9. Do any of the individual researchers receive additional benefits from increased payments to the Centre?
  10. Given the government retainer and the promise of additional benefit from the LDTA, can Macadam maintain that he remains committed to a search for knowledge and understanding and to conducting the research honestly?
  11. How will Macadam avoid the effects of his previous relationships with interviewees in the research?
  12. Will all the results of the study be published, both favourable and unfavourable?
  13. How will the results of the research be communicated so as to permit scrutiny?

This is not a complete list and you may have thought of other issues in addition. The purpose was to commence reflection on the kind of issues that are typically included in research ethics.