Research Ethics

Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On

So I’ve recently been focused on creating an Open Educational Resource which is a self-teaching resource and tool for submitting applications to our ethics committee. Indeed, this along with the current grant scramble I’m in, is the reason for my lack of posting over the last month or so. However, I’ve come across a number of points related to Computer Science and Research Ethics involving human participants which seems to make more sense for computer scientists.

The most important of these are the points that ethics really equals good research methodology, an Institutional Review Board is really just a way of getting 15 pairs of fresh eyes to look over your methods FOR FREE; and finally, the kind of language used is important – using CS jargon / terms means you are talking the same language as opposed to the more normal Medical, Psychological, and Sociological terms used by most IRBs and their accompanying literature. In reality, as an Ethics Liaison I find that it is my job to point out the positive in a familiar language using familiar terms. Here’s an excerpt:

Ethical procedures then (for you this means filling in a part completed online form), are often seen as a superfluous waste of time, or at best an activity in form filling, by most computer scientists. The ethical procedures that are required seem to be obtuse and unwieldy especially when there is little likelihood of danger, or negative outcomes, for the participants. Most practitioners reason that this is not, after all, a medical study or a clinical trial, there will be no invasive procedures or possibility of harm coming to a participant, so why do we need to undergo an ethical control?

This is entirely true for most cases within the Computer Science domain – and is almost certainly true for undergraduate and postgraduate taught programmes. However, the ethical process is a critical component of good scientific design because it encourages the computer scientists to focus on the methodology and the analysis techniques to be used within that methodology; which they probably are not familiar with.

You should always remember that it is not the aim of the organisational or institutional ethical body to place unreasonable constraints on the computer scientists. But more properly, to make sure that the study-designers possess a good understanding of what methodological procedures will be carried out, how they will be analysed, and how these two aspects may impact the human participants.

The resource is available to be used by anyone thus: Computer Science Research Ethics – Human Participants by Simon Harper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. It is based on a work at and is an Open Educational Resource.

Any comments, suggestions, improvements, or contributions are greatly welcomed; and I must thank Dr Caroline Jay for creating our template applications, and Dr Andrew Brown, for building the soon to be released system.


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