American Sociological Association

What’s the Harm? The Coverage of Ethics and Harm Avoidance in Research Methods Textbooks

Methods textbooks play a role in socializing a new generation of researchers about ethical research. How do undergraduate social research methods textbooks portray harm, its prevalence, and ways to mitigate harm to participants? We conducted a content analysis of ethics chapters in the 18 highest-selling undergraduate textbooks used in sociology research methods courses in the United States and Canada in 2013. We found that experiments are portrayed as the research design most likely to harm participants. Textbooks overwhelmingly referred to high-profile, well-known examples of harmful research. Chapters primarily characterize participants as at risk for psychological and physical harm. Textbooks engage in detailed discussions of how to avoid harm; informed consent figures prominently as an essential way to mitigate risk of harm. We conclude that textbooks promote a procedural rather than nuanced approach to ethics and that content in ethics chapters is out of step with scholarly research in research ethics.

Authors

Shane Dixon

Volume

46

Issue

1

Starting Page

12

Ending Page

24