Ethics or morality is that branch of philosophical inquiry that deals with the question of the rightness or wrongness of an action based on varying rules. In particular, normative ethics refers to the study of the question about what man ought to do in all possible situations (Resnik). Therefore, ethics in general is a set of rules and justifications for those rules. There are many ethical theories proposed that have been posited in philosophical history, such as Kantianism and utilitarianism (Resnik).
As a corollary, scientific ethics refers to a “system of rules, concepts, beliefs, and practices,” and a study of scientific ethics involves the justifications for such rules (Resnik). Scientific ethics is an institutional code, which is a code of conduct that is specifically designed to reflect the concerns and goals of the profession involved (Resnik).
Therefore, scientific ethics, being an institutional code, is more limited in scope than a general code of conduct, which applies to all disciplines, professions, and communities (Resnik). Hence, scientific ethics is a code that exclusively deals with the goals and concerns of the scientific community (Resnik).
Scientific ethics is the result of a consensus on ethical principles concerning science and research, which gradually developed since the end of World War II (Trochim, 2006). Two events have been noted as representational of the consensus. These two events are the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial following World War II and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in the 1950s and 1960s, which both involved situations of abuse of human subjects (Trochim, 2006).
The first one involved the use of captive human subjects in gruesome experiments, while the latter one involved the withholding of known treatment for syphilis from African-Americans who contracted the disease (Trochim, 2006). These two events led to the development of a consensus regarding the needed protection of humans from abusive scientific experiments (Trochim, 2006).
Fundamental Ethical Principles in Science.
There are many ethical rules on science and research, but a few emerge as the basic principles. The first fundamental principle of scientific research is scientific honesty, which prohibits the commission of scientific fraud, fabrication, or misrepresentation (Trochim, 2006). Trochim claims that this principle is the most important of all, because science establishes truth and rules, which require credibility and stability (2006). Therefore, a scientist or researcher is prohibited from concealing the results of an experiment to protect his individual interest, or for any matter whatsoever (Klusa, et al.).
The second fundamental principle of scientific research is carefulness, which prohibits carelessness that results in error in all aspects of a scientific endeavor (Trochim, 2006). Trochim recognizes that indeed, errors are unavoidable in science; however, the principles of carefulness mandates that scientists and researchers take extra care in conducting their scientific work in order to avoid oversight and other errors (Trochim, 2006). The rationale for the rule is that lack of due care could lead to unnecessary delays in research (Trochim, 2006). Carefulness allows scientists and researchers to proceed with haste because they would not be wasting time detecting and correcting errors (Trochim, 2006).
Another important scientific principle is intellectual freedom, which allows scientists and researchers to criticize old ideas and, at the same time, pursue new ideas of their own (Trochim, 2006). Scientists and researchers should not be told about what to study or research, their work should be dictated by their interests (Trochim, 2006).
This principle is important because this is what promotes the search for knowledge and truth. A scientist or researcher would not be able to make meaningful discoveries if he is restricted as to his power to experiment and propose theories (Trochim, 2006).
The principle of openness is another important scientific principle (Trochim, 2006). This principle dictates that scientists and researchers must share data, equipment, and even theories and findings (Trochim, 2006). This ensures that one’s work would be open for comments and criticisms, which allows a person to improve his work (Trochim, 2006). Therefore, be allowing others to see one’s work, he is thereby increasing his chances for discovering knowledge, since information and truth could be had from constructive criticisms (Trochim, 2006).
The fifth fundamental scientific principle is the principle of credit, which basically prohibits plagiarism (Trochim, 2006). This principle mandates that credit be made where such is due (Trochim, 2006). For example, where one uses sources previously available, it is his duty to make proper citations (Klusa, et al.). In addition, one is obliged to state the names of all persons who participated in a scientific endeavor, such as performing an experiment, in order to give them proper credit (Klusa, et al.).
The rationale for this principle lies in the motivation that scientists get from proper crediting of their work (Trochim, 2006). Indeed, aside from the satisfaction from getting things accomplished, one of the strongest motivations for one to excel in professional or scientific work is to receive acclaim for it (Trochim, 2006).
Another, more important reason behind this principle of credit is the notion of accountability (Trochim, 2006). Proper crediting allows the fixing of accountability, which provides a sufficient reason for researchers and scientists to avoid mistakes that could lead to accountability (Trochim, 2006). Proper crediting therefore serves as a check against harmful and sloppy work attitude (Trochim, 2006).
Finally, the last scientific principle on Trochim’s list refers to the principle of public responsibility (Trochim, 2006). This principle dictates that an important research involving human happiness be reported to the public and that a research be validated by scientific peers (Trochim, 2006).
This principle is in close connection with the principle of credit, because both are grounded on the notion of accountability (Trochim, 2006). The principle of public responsibility is a recognition of the need of the scientific community to maintain the integrity of science (Trochim, 2006). Only respect for science would allow funds to keep on coming, which is undoubtedly crucial in the continued growth of knowledge (Trochim, 2006).
Finally, other broad principles also belong to the broad coverage of ethical principles in science and research, such as objectivity and neutrality. Both of these principles deal with the impartial attitude that one must possess as a researcher or a member of the scientific community.
Indeed, researchers and scientists need to possess impartiality, objectivity and neutrality in the performance of their work because more than any other field, science pursues practical and theoretical truths, which would be undermined if researchers and scientists would not be candid about their findings and theories. Therefore, dishonesty and partiality could only lead to adverse consequences, such as the development of faulty and incorrect theories.
Another important scientific principle is empiricism, which is the notion that all knowledge is derived from human experience. Empiricism therefore relies on sensory data before making any generalizations, and much of these sensory data is based on observations.
Another important scientific principle is tentativeness, which is exemplified by the scientific practice of working only with tentative hypotheses. This practice allows scientists and researchers to choose the data that are relevant to a specific theory. Tentativeness provides room for improvement and change, which would not be possible if science only adheres to stability.
The possible adverse consequences on the whole research and scientific community is the underlying principle for the establishment and maintenance of specific rules to govern all those concerned (Science for All Americans Online). Ethical principles give all researchers and scientists a guide for all their conduct, and these rules ensure that the rights of everyone are protected and respected. Given these reasons, no one would be justified in claiming that ethical principles in science and research are unnecessary (Science for All Americans Online).
Finally, scientific methodology follows the principle of parsimony, which relates to the establishment of scientific hypotheses and helps in improving the quality of research and preserving subjects (Filho, 2004). Parsimony mandates the simplification of work and the expression of hypotheses and conclusions in the most straightforward manner (Filho, 2004).