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Keith, P. K., & Fairfield, J. A. T. (2017). Ethics of Empirical Research. In J. Matthes, R. F. Potter, & C. S. Davis (Eds.), The International Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods (p. pp 1-17). John Wiley & Sons, Inc. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118901731.iecrm0086


The ethics of empirical research are governed by fundamental ethical principles applied through regulations and procedural requirements. The philosophical ideologies of consequentialism and deontology find specific expression through foundational documents of research ethics—the Nuremberg Code, the Declaration of Helsinki, the Belmont Report, the Menlo Report, and the U.S. Federal Common Rule. These documents establish the fundamental principles of autonomy, beneficence, and justice. Institutional review boards (IRBs) enforce these ethical principles by reviewing research protocols and monitoring ongoing experiments. IRBs ensure that researchers comply with requirements for informed consent, weighing risks and benefits, and harm minimization, among others. As the nature and practice of research evolves, reform proposals—like the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the U.S. Federal Common Rule—attempt to ensure that research in the modern world is ethically defensible. Despite the continued focus on research ethics, lingering ethical issues threaten to undermine the legitimacy of researchers and research institutions. Successfully parsing these issues is essential to our continued scientific progress and our humanity.