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Ethics in Social Sciences

To debate ethical considerations in current social research practices, to identify critical areas that require special attention in terms of ethical issues and to institutionalise mechanisms conducive to ethical concerns - these were the critical issues that were discussed during a national level consultation held in Surat in December 2005.

Ethics in Social Sciences

Report of a National Consultation

To debate ethical considerations in current social research practices, to identify critical areas that require special attention in terms of ethical issues and to institutionalise mechanisms conducive to ethical concerns – these were the critical issues that were discussed during a national level consultation held in Surat in December 2005.

SUNITASHEEL BANDEWAR, AKASH ACHARYA, RATNAWALI SINHA, BISWAROOP DAS, SUDARSHAN IYENGAR

S
ocial science researchers, especially anthropologists and psychologists, have been confronting ethical challenges long before the development of bioethics and its emergence as an independent applied field of enquiry over the last half a century. A national level consultation on “Ethics in Social Science Research” coorganised by Centre for Social Studies (CSS), Surat, Gujarat; Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT), Mumbai; and the Centre for Studies in Ethics and Rights (CSER), Mumbai was held at CSS, Surat, on December 2 and 3, 2005.

The objectives of the consultation were:

  • (a) to provide a platform to eminent social scientists of the country to debate the need for ethical considerations in current research practices; (b) to identify critical areas that require special attention in terms of ethical issues; (c) to develop shared understanding as regards the need to have ethics guidelines for social science research in India; and
  • (d) to discuss the possibility of institutionalising mechanisms to provide conducive environment to deliberate on ethical issues and concerns. The consultation was supported by eight papers by eminent social scientists – A M Shah, Pradip Bose, Gopal Kadekodi, Padmini Swaminathan, Leela Visaria, Udayan Mishra, Amar Jesani, Ghanshyam Shah – 10 discussants and about 30 participants. Over five sessions, it covered social science faculties, such as, sociology, anthropology, demography and survey research, economics and action/intervention research. Thirteen ICSSR institutes participated in the national consultation process. Two other organisations, TALEEM Research Foundation and Centre for Environment Planning and Technology (CEPT) also participated in the process.
  • Generic Concerns and IssuesGeneric Concerns and IssuesGeneric Concerns and IssuesGeneric Concerns and IssuesGeneric Concerns and Issues

    The consultation brought out a wealth of insights afresh. This section discusses the generic issues – macro and micro level – that emerged of the consultation. Macro level issues relate to larger systems and their functioning; policies; and also conceptualisation and premises of various disciplines within social sciences. The micro level issues relate to ethical issues and concerns that research teams/institutions have to deal with during the lifespan of any research initiative; and procedural aspects of research ethics reviews.

    Macro Issues

    Following were the five themes that emerged of the papers presented and discussed over the five sessions of the consultation.

  • (a) Power relationships, quality of research, and policy implications: A couple of presenters made reference to the fourparty model by J A Barnes (1977)describing the four key stakeholders in any research enterprise, viz, research participants participating communities; researcher/research institute/s, research guides/research students; sponsors/funding agencies and various other systems, such as, law, state, and culture through which research mediates. It was said that the imbalanced power relationship among these stakeholders often has ripple effects. In that, it can affect choice of topics of enquiries and quality of research. There have been instances in the past where methodologies were dictated by funders. Use of the select (convenient) data; or knowingly using it out of context more to accommodate the agenda of the sponsors, than of the people/communities has also been practised. Further, feeding such manipulated findings into policies and programmes would not only be detrimental to developmental concerns and constituencies but will also be regressive and work against the interests of the marginalised and underprivileged.
  • (b) Research agenda, priority setting andresource allocation issues: The often debated concerns, such as who decides the research agenda, were voiced in this consultation as well. International funding
  • agencies are increasingly supporting a range of developmental research initiatives. It is in this context that the spectrum of ethical issues was said to be located which also hinges upon the power imbalances that was referred to earlier. Deciding the agenda with the help of civil society’s participation remains a desirable goal. Developmental agencies and groups which often sustain themselves with support from various agencies, find it hard to be assertive while negotiating agenda. From an ethics perspective, such practices potentially can breach basic tenets of ethics. The concern then would be, whether it is possible to find some middle ground to make the developmental work most relevant to people and at the same time not lose the support from various agencies.

  • (c) Equity issues – conceptualisation ofenquiries/research problems within thedisciplines: Some presentations highlighted some of the inadequacies in the ways various concepts have been defined; the way they are operationalised; and the way some themes are always kept at the periphery. For example, it was argued that the issues like poverty, nutrition and livelihood have taken a life of their own and today stand apart from macroeconomics. It was argued that such an approach leaves problems of the most vulnerable in the society “un” or “under” addressed. In the democratic states which are premised on commitments to social justice, such critical issues need a different treatment by academia and the kind of attention they deserve because of its magnitude and persisting nature. The need to continuously critique the concepts that various disciplines employ and closely examine their implications in the changing global context is looked at as part of ethical responsibility of the academia. While desirable improvements in critical key concepts, for example, “work”, and prominent place of gender as an analytical category in economics, were acknowledged, it was squarely spelt out that it is inadequate. At the same time, concepts such as “development”; declining importance of “caste” as an analytical category and underplaying the “unorganised sector”, etc, were questioned from the point of view of social justice.
  • (d) State policies and its impact on qualityof research:Several of the speakers brought to the fore how the state policies on education and educational institutes have implications for quality of education and research work. A number of important points were made in this context. It was said that over the time, empirical data indicates that quality of doctoral work is deteriorating which could be the result of inappropriate and mindless policies. For
  • Economic and Political Weekly June 30, 2006

    example, making it compulsory to clear NET/SET as qualifying tests for those aspiring to be in teaching profession; and completion of doctoral studies as an eligibility criteria to be able to continue in teaching profession at undergraduate level and thereafter. In absence of adequate complementary support and resources in terms of time, finances, required training in taking up such independent research; and contemporary advances in their respective disciplines and specialised areas of enquiry, make these efforts to acquire degrees, a ritual. Such policies lead to research works on topics which neither researchers nor research guides have convictions about in terms of their signi- ficance, value and relevance. Unproductive research in more than one sense; and abuse of scarce resources are the ethical challenges here, at least, at the macro level.

    (e) Competence of professionals and educational systems: Several other related issues around the education system were raised underscoring their effects on the quality of research, and training. Absence of periodic and regular revisions of syllabi was said to be directly affecting quality of training; overall ethos and working environment; lack of any platform or spaces for sharing work and seeking healthy critique from peers; and no formal peer review mechanisms for faculty’s training and research related performance are some of them. Both, apathy at an individual level towards excellence in academia and the larger systemic failures seem to cause the system to deteriorate. On the other count, systemic problems in terms of corruption and malpractices within the educational system were also seen as factors dampening the academic spirit in true sense.

    Micro Issues

    Ethical issues that researchers are confronted with during the lifespan of a particular research initiative, beginning from defining and conceptualising it to the stage of bringing its findings in the public domain; and the ethics review mechanisms and the need to institutionalise them in social sciences in India were the two themes that emerged. Among several topical concerns which were common to that discussed within the micro and in macro context, two areas are briefly presented here.

    (a) Conduct of research: A research enterprise which meets the criteria of being “ethically sound” on other aspects, such as, scientific/methodological soundness and relevance of the topic could go off beam in the field in absence of adequate attention paid to processes involved in conducting research. The research participants and participating communities would be at stake the most. The challenges will be in terms of identifying more appropriate methods and questions to be posed to meet the study objectives. Additionally, how such information is sought, recorded, analysed and presented, etc, also poses challenges on the ethics front. For example, enquiry into any sensitive topic (abortion, sexual abuse, domestic violence) and/or interaction with vulnerable groups (vulnerability could be structural or situational) would require adequate attention to protect individual research participants and communities. The efforts have to be at various levels – the methods of data collection, the identification of individual participants (sampling related issues); the field approach to locate such people; the methods of recording; analysis and also while bringing the material in the public domain – to make it ethically sound. On this count, every field situation would pose different sets of challenges to be able to strike a balance between scientific validity and ethical soundness of research.

    (b) Data analysis and interpretations:

    Poorly conceptualised frameworks of analysis; application of inappropriate methods of data analysis and interpretations inevitably contribute to unethical research because it is scientifically unsound. Conceptualisation of hypothesis to be tested through quantitative research was considered the most challenging. It was said that the numbers and results of “statistical significance test” could be misleading without paying much attention to choice of variables; and how data were smoothened, etc. It was highlighted that statistical methods are routinely misused which could have long lasting, negative implications for the concerned constituencies.

    Intriguing DichotomiesIntriguing DichotomiesIntriguing DichotomiesIntriguing DichotomiesIntriguing Dichotomies

    Advancement of both, social sciences and basic sciences on the one hand and philosophy of scientific methods on the other has never been without confronting contradictions and intriguing dichotomies. Perhaps the pursuit to address these contradictions and dichotomies helped progress epistemology. The discussions in this consultation were not exclusive of several such dichotomies. They will require further debates on a broader platform. Among all these intriguing dichotomies, “ethics” remained the opposing pole. The other facets which got contrasted with ethics were academic freedom; pursuit of knowledge; professionalism; policing; scientific approach and law. The concerns expressed were: “would being stringent as regards ethics practices encroach on, say for example, academic freedom; or how is the pursuit of knowledge possible with so much of interference by “ethicalities of researching”? Wouldn’t application of an ethical framework and mechanisms such as ethical review committees would be more of a policing device by colleagues and peers; and be used against growth, perhaps of both, disciplines and individuals entities? Wouldn’t ethics related practices be obstructing professionalism? Would the scientific rigour of the work get compromised in the “haste” for complying with ethicalities of

    Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe), New DelhiIntegrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe), New DelhiIntegrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe), New DelhiIntegrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe), New DelhiIntegrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe), New Delhi
    Several Positions AvailableSeveral Positions AvailableSeveral Positions AvailableSeveral Positions AvailableSeveral Positions Available

    IRADe is a reputed institute, which conducts multidisciplinary research, policy analysis, action programmes in the field and training in energy, environment and sustainable development. Established in 2002, the institute has collaborators and projects with reputed international and national organizations, various ministries, public and private sector.

    IRADe invites applications for mid-level positions that requires skills in

  • Energy and economic modeling using input-output or CGE modeling
  • Climate change mitigation, adaptation
  • Analysis using NSS data
  • QualificationsQualificationsQualificationsQualificationsQualifications

  • PhD or Masters degree in energy economics or economics or environmental economics with more than 55% marks and 3 to 5 years experience
  • Training in econometrics, programming models and other tools is desirable
  • Good record of publications, networking and fund raising ability
  • How to Apply:How to Apply:How to Apply:How to Apply:How to Apply:
    Please apply to irade_jobs@rediffmail.com with brief as well as detailed c.v. and names of 2 references. No need to enclose certificates or publications at this stage. Last date of applications four weeks from the date of this advertisement.

    Dr. Jyoti Parikh Dr. Kirit Parikh Executive Director, IRADe Chairman, IRADe IRADe, 50 Asian Games Village, New Delhi, 110049. Website www.irade.org.

    Economic and Political Weekly June 30, 2006

    No.F.PA-REG/109/2003-04

    NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF EDUCATIONAL PLANNING AND ADMINISTRATIONNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF EDUCATIONAL PLANNING AND ADMINISTRATIONNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF EDUCATIONAL PLANNING AND ADMINISTRATIONNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF EDUCATIONAL PLANNING AND ADMINISTRATIONNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF EDUCATIONAL PLANNING AND ADMINISTRATION
    17-B, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi-110 01617-B, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi-110 01617-B, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi-110 01617-B, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi-110 01617-B, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi-110 016

    Faculty RecruitmentFaculty RecruitmentFaculty RecruitmentFaculty RecruitmentFaculty Recruitment

    NIEPA is the apex national institution under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, located at New Delhi. NIEPA being an academic organization is actively engaged in research, training, consultancy and extension activities in educational planning and administration at all levels of education. Besides, it also acts as a clearing house for dissemination of knowledge through seminars, workshops, conferences, publications, etc. The Institute has openings for various faculty positions in the ranks of Senior Fellow and Fellow. Incumbents for both the positions are required to undertake research and training programmes both at school and higher education levels and, therefore, their specialization should necessarily fall in one or more of the following areas:

    1. Educational Planning and Administration; 2. School and Non formal Education; 3. Inclusive Education; 4. Higher Education;

    5. Teacher Preparation; 6. Economics of Education/Financial Manaegment in Education; 7. Educational Policies; 8. Coordination and Policy Planning; 9. Sociology of Education; 10. Comparative Education; 11. Management of Quality in Education;

    12. Educational Management Information System; 13. Global Educational concerns like WTO, GATS, FDI, IPR, etc.

    Essential qualifications/Scale of Pay/AgeEssential qualifications/Scale of Pay/AgeEssential qualifications/Scale of Pay/AgeEssential qualifications/Scale of Pay/AgeEssential qualifications/Scale of Pay/Age

    A.A.A.A.A.
    Senior Fellow (Rs. 16,400-22,400), preferably below 50 years.Senior Fellow (Rs. 16,400-22,400), preferably below 50 years.Senior Fellow (Rs. 16,400-22,400), preferably below 50 years.Senior Fellow (Rs. 16,400-22,400), preferably below 50 years.Senior Fellow (Rs. 16,400-22,400), preferably below 50 years.

    Applicants should have consistently good academic record with first or high second class (B+) Master’s Degree in Social Sciences like Economics, Political Science, Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, Education, Statistics, Basic Sciences, Operation Research and Management from a recognized Indian or a foreign university. Either a doctorate degree of an Indian or foreign university or published research work of a high standard or outstanding academic contributions in any of the above mentioned field(s): and At least 10 years experience of teaching as lecturer and above level (of which at least 5 years as reader level)/conducting research in any of the above mentioned fields relating to educational planning and administration; High quality of published research in the concerned area.

    OR

    At least 10 years administrative experience in educational planning and administration at senior level in government or government supported autonomous organisations. Out of this experience a minimum of 5 years experience, on the date of closing should be in the scale of pay of Rs.12,000-18,300 or a minimum of three years experience in the scale of Rs. 14,000-18,300 in areas such as Project Formulation, Coordination and Policy Planning, Formulation of Regulations, Monitoring and Evaluation of National level schemes and initiatives. In the case of persons drawn from administrative cadres there should be evidence of academic and innovative contributions in the field of educational planning and administration. Currently there are two regular vacancies of Sr. Fellows and one leave vacancy for a period of two years. More vacancies are likely to arise shortly.

    B.B.B.B.B.
    Fellow (Rs. 12,000-18,300) prefererably below 45 years.Fellow (Rs. 12,000-18,300) prefererably below 45 years.Fellow (Rs. 12,000-18,300) prefererably below 45 years.Fellow (Rs. 12,000-18,300) prefererably below 45 years.Fellow (Rs. 12,000-18,300) prefererably below 45 years.

    Applicants should have consistently good academic record in the first or high second class (B+) Master’s Degree with Ph.D. in any of the subjects: Education, Sociology, Economics, Psychology, Statistics, Political Science, Operations Research, Mathematics and Management from a recognized Indian or a foreign university. At least 5 years experience, on the date of closing of this advertisement, as Lecturer or equivalent rank with an established evidence of conducting research in any of the above mentioned field(s).

    OR

    At least 5 years administrative experience in educational planning and administration on the date of closing, as Lecturer or analogous scale of Rs. 8,000-13,000 in government or government supported autonomous organisations.

    Deputation/TransferDeputation/TransferDeputation/TransferDeputation/TransferDeputation/Transfer
    A) Officers/academics from Central/State Governments Universities/Colleges, Professional and Research Institutions and bodies; Holding analogous
    post on regular basis; or
    B) Possessing qualifications prescribed for direct recruit. (Period of duputation shall not ordinarily exceed 4 years)

    Minimum requirements of qualifications and/or experience may be relaxed in respect of exceptionally outstanding candidates. The Institute reserves the right to fill up or not to fill up any or all the posts or to shortlist and select the candidates in any suitable position depending upon the qualifications and experience required for the said post. Currently there are two vacancies of Fellows.

    Method of RecruitmentMethod of RecruitmentMethod of RecruitmentMethod of RecruitmentMethod of Recruitment

    Direct Recruitment/Transfer on Deputation/Transfer (By advertisement or by personal contact or by invitation)

    Note:

  • 1. In case of persons drawn from administrative cadres, the condition under essential qualifications will not apply but there should be evidence of academic and innovative contributions in the field of educational planning and administration.
  • 2. The benefit of added years of service under rule 30 of CCS (Pension) Rules, 1972 shall be admissible on fulfilment of all the conditions under these rules in the case of direct recruits.
  • 3. Candidates already in employment under government/semi-government organizations/autonomous bodies should send their applications through proper channel.
  • 4. Other things being equal, preference will be given to SC/ST/OBC/Physically Handicapped candidates as per the Government of India instructions currently in force.
  • 5. Candidates from outside Delhi called for interview will be paid single return second class train fare by shortest route. Interested candidates may download the application form from our website
    www.niepa.orgwww.niepa.orgwww.niepa.orgwww.niepa.orgwww.niepa.org
    and submit their applications through proper channel to the Registrar, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, 17-B, Sri Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi-110 016. The last date of submission of applications shall be four weeks from the date of publication of this advertisement. Those who had already applied for the posts in response to earlier advertisement need not apply. They may, however, submit their revised bio-data. For further details pertaining to service conditions, etc. please visit our website:
    www.niepa.orgwww.niepa.orgwww.niepa.orgwww.niepa.orgwww.niepa.org
  • New Delhi (P.R.R. NAIR) Dated: 16/6/06 Registrar

    Economic and Political Weekly June 30, 2006

    research entrepreneurship? How do law and ethics interact with each other; which of these two should take precedence? Would there be a common minimum denominator shared by them? These questions raised during the consultation would, in the coming time, require an informed debate which cannot happen without stock taking of the existing discourse on these issues from various other parts of the globe. This could be both to contribute to the debate and critique it as well.

    On the other count, social sciences and basic sciences; and fundamental and applied research were dichotomised in the context of knowing the applicability of “ethics framework”. There is an overlap in these two dichotomies. These are harder questions and an approach to locate easy answers would be self-defeating. Against this backdrop, it seems that the challenge in the coming time then is to go beyond the dominance of the three tenets of ethics – autonomy, beneficence and non-maleficence and apply more robustly the principle of social justice to be in a better position to assess how value versus validity debate could be informed by ethics framework.

    The other dichotomies referred to were “universalism versus relativism” and “ideologies and ethics”. The underlying concerns were “whose ethics”? And “who defines what is ethically sound”? How do we resolve that ethics principle might conflict with cultural practices, traditions and also ideologies? What could be the limits of either “universalism” or “relativism”? And who decides these limits, if any? And if there are no universal standards for ethical practices, then what could be its significance?

    “Whether self-regulation or institutional ethics review mechanisms” was another dichotomy expressed. It is believed that the moment the researchers’ community achieves quality (here “quality” is inclusive of ethically sound research) research through self-regulations, the need for any external ethics review mechanism diminishes. On the other count, often such institutionalised mechanisms, since they are premised on the principles of “educating” and “facilitating” quality research, enable to provide a platform for an open discussion. In the current context, “to be open and receptive to even the most radical ideas as regards research ethics” seems plausible and logical.

    The Way Forward...The Way Forward...The Way Forward...The Way Forward...The Way Forward...

    It was felt that this dialogue and the discussion should continue beyond this group and the participating institutes should broaden this discourse to better understand the larger spectrum of ethics issues across various disciplines in social sciences. At the moment, in absence of any opportunities for ethics training, most of these concerns remain unaddressed and also without any documentation for others to learn from. It was therefore agreed upon by consensus to run a week long intensive research ethics training for social science research in health to facilitate development of critical mass of trainers from within the social sciences academia which would help integrating research ethics training in academic settings. Email: sunitavb@vsnl.net

    mr:

    ReferenceReferenceReferenceReferenceReference

    Barns, J A (1977): The Ethics of Enquiry in Social Sciences: Three Lectures, Oxford University Press, New Delhi.

    Economic and Political Weekly June 30, 2006

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