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Number 6 (3/2001)


Research ethics is a practical matter

Sami Borg November 2001

In Finland, the discussion about research ethics has lately revolved round funding practices and a few sporadic cases of fraudulent conduct. The overall scope of acceptable scientific principles and practices is naturally much wider. We are in fact dealing with general research project guidelines that should comply with both the relevant legislation and the prevalent norms within the scientific community.

Much of it boils down to administering material which is collected from and used in research projects. In Finland, the legislation concerning these matters was only recently revised. The rapid development of information technology has also profoundly changed research practices: e-mail and the Internet have made an abundance of novel - and easily accessible - materials available also to social scientists. Researches are now facing a whole new set of ethical questions: right of use, authenticity, scientific quality and easy copying deserve our serious attention.

The Finnish Ministry of Education has appointed a special consultative committee to review some of these questions, and the resources of this committee were recently increased. The Academy of Finland has founded its own research ethical group, and several universities and other research organisations have drawn up distinct guidelines. However, it is not easy to juxtapose the various ethical aspects which different disciplines consider essential - especially when details are discussed. Functional processes in some specific disciplines make a good start. Perhaps now would be a good time to focus more on data related practices.

FSD neWWWs' current issue tries to give some tools for handling research material. We are very aware of the fact that our effort is only a minor milestone on this long winding road, and that both organisations and researchers still have a long way to go. The Finnish Social Science Data Archive co-operates with other organs to ensure that in the future, social scientist will find both the ethical and the legislative matters easier to approach - also at the practical level.

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