Ethical considerations are of particular importance to sociologists because sociologists study people. Thus, sociologists must adhere to a rigorous code of ethics. In the context of sociological research, a code of ethics refers to formal guidelines for conducting research, consisting of principles and ethical standards concerning the treatment of human individuals.
The most important ethical consideration in sociological research is that participants in a sociological investigation are not harmed in any way. Exactly what this entails can vary from study to study, but there are several universally recognized considerations. For instance, research on children and youth always requires parental consent . All sociological research requiresinformed consent, and participants are never coerced into participation. Informed consent in general involves ensuring that prior to agreeing to participate, research subjects are aware of details of the study including the risks and benefits of participation and in what ways the data collected will be used and kept secure. Participants are also told that they may stop their participation in the study at any time.
Ethical Guidelines for Research Involving Children
Sociologists must follow strict ethical guidelines, especially when working with children or other vulnerable populations.
Institutional review boards (IRBs) are committees that are appointed to approve, monitor, and review research involving human subjects in order to make sure that the well-being of research participants is never compromised. They are thus intended to assess such factors as conflicts of interest--for instance, a funding source that has a vested interest in the outcome of a research project--and potential emotional distress caused to subjects. While often primarily oriented toward biomedical research, approval from IRBs is now required for all studies dealing with humans.