Book reviews

Research Ethics and Integrity for Social Scientists By Mark Israel

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    Clive Sims

    Research Ethics and Integrity for Social Scientists


    Mark Israel


    Israel, M. Research Ethics and Integrity for Social Scientists. 2nd Edition. 2015 London. Sage. Reviewer: Clive Sims


           This book is the 2nd edition of Research Ethics for Social Scientists: Between Ethical Conduct and Regulatory Compliance by M. Israel & I. Hay, (London. Sage. 2006.). Much has happened between 2006 and 2015, not least several high profile scandals which have cast serious doubts upon the integrity of individual researchers and on the reliability and applicability of regulatory systems. The author, Mark Israel, is Winthrop Professor of Law and Criminology in the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Australia and Adjunct Professor at Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia. He brings wide experience to examining the ethical and regulatory systems with their accompanying codes and practices around the world. As a starting point he poses the question, “Why care about ethics?” and this is the theme of the first chapter, which serves both as an introduction and a justification for the rest of the book.

             Following this introduction the author examines different ethical approaches and how they have developed including consequentialist and non-consequentialist approaches, principalist approaches, Aristotelean virtue ethics and casuistry. He then looks at critical approaches to ethics, including examples of problematical cases, concluding that different normative positions result in different and sometimes irreconcilable outcomes. Given that this is so, as well demonstrated by the case studies, he proceeds to ask upon what we should base our ethical decisions. In the next chapter Professor Israel presents a valuable review of how approaches to ethical research behaviour have become institutionalized and formalized, and identifies the key principles underpinning ethical decision making in social science research and how it differs from that of the biomedical sciences. At the start of the chapter he presents, in tabular form the ethical codes and regulatory developments since the Nuremburg trials of 1945 and the consequent Nuremburg Code of 1947 through to 2013 and the seventh revision of the Declaration of Helsinki. He follows this by an in-depth analysis of the major developments during this period, pointing out that whilst most of the dubious practices have taken place in biomedical settings social scientists are not without fault. With the increasing internationalization of research he notes that efforts are being made to tackle the difficulties in applying universal ethical principles to a range of countries, particularly those that do not follow the Western ethical tradition and he highlights the difficulties in this. In the following chapter Professor Israel examines the variation in regulating ethics in different countries and parts of the world and the challenges these present in an increasingly globalized world.

           The next five chapters each focus on a specific ethical issue starting with informed consent, through confidentiality; avoiding harm, doing good and seeking justice; integrity and misconduct and finally relationships. These make for fascinating reading. In the final chapter Professor Israel draws all the strands of his argument together, emphasising that ethical conduct is not the same as regulatory compliance. Throughout this book he has emphasised that ethical codes, guidelines and regulatory practices have their origins in misbehaviours and scandals that occurred in the biomedical field rather than the social sciences, but “ethical creep” has led to the net widening thereby enmeshing social science research. He recognises the bitter conflicts that have frequently risen between researchers and regulators and urges all parties to attempt to find shared solutions. Again the issue of the increasing globalization of research makes this a vital endeavour.

           ‘Research Ethics and Integrity for Social Scientists’ concludes with a comprehensive thirty four page list of references which is an invaluable resource for the reader, an author index and a subject index.

           Social science research and the ethical dilemmas encountered are an ever-changing field and this change will undoubtedly continue and accelerate. In this book Professor Israel presents an absorbing critical account of the development of national and, increasingly, global research ethics and regulatory systems. The many case studies included within the text bring to life the dilemmas researchers have faced in a way that provides the reader with much food for thought.

           The reviewer thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Professor Israel brings clarity of thought to what can be a very obtuse and confusing area, albeit one of vital importance for the future development of research. I can fully recommend it both the seasoned researcher and to those beginning in the field who require a sound and readable introduction to research ethics in the social sciences.



    This is a great read on a rare topic, thanks for sharing the review.

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