Guidelines for Critiquing the Ethical Aspects of a Study
Was the study approved and monitored by an Institutional Review Board, Research Ethics Board, or other similar ethics review committee? (20 points)
The study was approved and closely regulated by the Deakin University Human Research Ethics Committee. Based on the requirements all research studies must comply with certain regulations and follow the Australian for the Responsible Conduct of Research. The code describes “good practice promotes integrity in research for researchers and explains what is expected of researchers by the community. In providing advice on how to manage departures from best practice, this Code assists researchers, administrators and the community in this important matter” (Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, 2007, p.1).
Were participants subjected to any physical harm, discomfort, or psychological distress? Did the researchers take appropriate steps to remove, prevent, or minimize harm? (20 points)
In the process of performing research study involving human subject, each researcher is responsible for adhering to certain principles and norms. These standards and ethical principles guarantee that each individual participating in the research is protected and their integrity, dignity and safety are maintained. Here in United States “the Belmont Report articulated three broad principles on which standards of ethical conduct in research are based: beneficence, respect for human dignity, and justice” (Polit, & Beck, 2011, p.152). The study under discussion was performed in Australia, where individuals executing different type of research must follow similar ethical principles, including justice, beneficence and respect for dignity and integrity. These principles are outlined in The National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research and Values and Ethics – Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research. These principles are important in protecting human subjects involved in research and guarantee avoidance of physical harm, discomfort, or psychological distress to those contributing.
In the article “Inﬂuences on Preschool Children’s Physical Activity”, I believe that the ethical principled discussed above have been maintained and no physical harm, discomfort, or psychological distress occurred. However, in this particular study the participants are more likely to be affected by psychological, than physical harm due to the nature of the study. With that being said, I think participant are at risk of feeling guilt and distress as a result of the study, because as a parents they might feel that their children are not active enough as a result either of not enough parental involvement or variety of factors. In addition, I think that participants are at risk for decreased self-esteem and self-respect. Also, the cultural values of the participants have not been taken into an account, which can contribute to ethical issues and dilemmas.
Did the benefits to participants outweigh any potential risks or actual discomfort they experienced? Did the benefits to society outweigh the costs to participants? (20 points).
In any particular research study, besides exploring the ethical principles, important factor is considering the risk and benefits for the participants and the entire society. In this particular study, I believe that the benefits to the participants outweigh any potential risks they might encounter. With that being said, some emotional distress might occur among the individuals participating as a result of the finding gained from the research. Mothers of preschool children were the main group involved and the results of the research could positively influence their understanding of the significance of physical activity among children. Even though, some mothers reported that their children were not actively involved in physical activities, the results of the study can bring some awareness and recognition of the importance of exercise in regards of well-being and general health. Also, the study recognizes additional factors, such as parental involvement, environment and characteristics of individual child. However, in general I believe that the knowledge and understanding gained form this study is beneficial for the improvement of the general health of the studied population and the data presented can be effective, valuable and beneficial for the entire society and community. Furthermore, the study highlights the importance of physical activity for preschool children, which is vital for the general psychical and psychological growth and development of this population.” That literature, collectively, illustrates that preschool children’s activity levels and patterns are influenced by individual, social and physical environmental factors. In addition, this study identifies previously unexplored influences on young children’s physical activity” (Hinkley, Salmon, Okely, Crawford, & Hesketh, 2011, p.47). Furthermore, the authors of the article outlined the benefits and contribution of the study. Also, any possible harm to the patricians is taken into consideration during the process of performing the research. Furthermore, I could not find any particular statement included in the article mentioning or explaining to the participant the possible benefits and explanation of any possible harm effects, which should be included as part of the project. However, in general I hold the belief that the article is valuable contribution to the society and the entire community. Additionally, any possible benefits to participants outweigh any potential risks and at the same time the benefits to society outweigh the costs to participants.
Was any type of coercion or undue influence used to recruit participants? Did they have the right to refuse to participate or to withdraw without penalty? (20 points)
From my point of view and understanding, I believe that applicants in the study were not obligated or intimidated to participate in the research. To a certain point the authors make clear that participant have the right to chose to participate or refuse. No evidence of pressure is apparent. Appropriate and suitable enrolment of the participant is present and free of coercion. “Recruitment of parents was standard across all centers and involved a written invitation distributed to the parents of each child attending the center and posters were placed around the center” (Hinkley, Salmon, Okely, Crawford, & Hesketh, 2011, p.40). . In addition to that, the audience was informed on the criteria based in which participants will be selected. However, I could not find statement in the article describing any further communication with the participant giving them more details and information in regards of the nature of the study and the right either to participate or refuse. Also, some additional facts need to be included and presented in regards to the purpose of the study, benefits and risks present.
Were participants deceived in any way? Were they fully aware of participating in a study and did they understand the purpose and nature of the research? (20 points)
Participant in the study were fully aware of their involvement in study exploring the influence of physical activity on preschool children. Invitations in written form were sent to people interested in participating. However, no evidence in the article exists in regards of their fully understanding and purpose of the study. No detailed information was given to the participants explaining the nature and the purpose f the research. Minimal information is included in the article discussing the issues under discussion. Participants have the right to fully understand the purpose, risk, benefits, methods used in performing the research, any possible harms and how the information collected is going to be used for the benefit of the society and the children population. “Full disclosure means that the researcher has fully described the nature of the study, the person’s right to refuse participation, the researcher’s responsibilities, and likely risks and benefits. (Polit, & Beck, 2011, p.154).
Were appropriate informed consent procedures used? If not, were there valid and justifiable reasons? (20 points)
There is no section in the article describing the process of obtaining informed consent form the participant, which makes it difficult to conclude if one was obtained or omitted. However, any research article in order to be scientifically valid and sufficient must include section describing the process of obtaining informed consent. Also, the informed consent must include all components required to be valid. The “codes of research ethics generally require researchers first to explain to participants the nature of their research and the potential consequences of involvement. Then, before research can commence, participants need to agree to taking part in the research on the basis of a fully informed and voluntary decision” (Israel, & Hay, 2006, p.75). The right to self-determination and the right to full disclosure are the two major elements on which informed consent is based” (Polit, & Beck, 2011, p.154).
Were adequate steps taken to safeguard participants’ privacy? How was confidentiality maintained? Were Privacy Rule procedures followed (if applicable)? Was a Certificate of Confidentiality obtained? If not, should one have been obtained? (20 points).
Focused group method was used in the research under discussion, which requires people to share thoughts and opinions in the form of discussion with the rest of the participants. In such settings maintaining confidentiality is hard to achieve. However, each member of the group needs to be informed about the importance of not sharing sensitive information about other members with people outside of the group. With that being said, I think that no adequate steps were taken to maintain confidentiality and to protect participants’ privacy. No section in the article exists that discusses the issues of privacy or confidentiality. The authors are required to include section in the informed consent informing all participants about possible breach in confidentiality due to the nature of the method used to conduct the study, which is in form of focused groups. All members must be informed about the importance of maintaining the information shared during the discussion private and confidential, which in this case I believe was omitted and is not in accordance with the acceptable procedure that need to be followed when conducting research of this nature.
Were vulnerable groups involved in the research? If yes, were special precautions used because of their vulnerable status? (20 points)
According to Polit & Beck (2011) vulnerable groups consist of “children, mentally or emotionally disabled people, severely ill or physically disabled people, the terminally ill, institutionalized people, and pregnant women” (p.166). However, in the study under discussion no vulnerable groups were involved. Participants include mothers of children between 3 and 5 years of age. Furthermore, in general if any particular study includes any of the vulnerable groups mentioned above special measures need to be taken to protect and prevent them from any possible risk and harm. In some instances the study need to be approved form government agencies and to follow special protocols and procedure when conducting the research. “External review of the ethical aspects of a study by an ethics committee, Research Ethics Board (REB), or Institutional Review Board (IRB) is highly desirable and may be required by either the agency funding the research or the organization from which participants are recruited” (Polit, & Beck, 2011, p.172).
Were groups omitted from the inquiry without a justifiable rationale, such as women (or men), minorities, or older people? (20 points)
In the study described by the authors of the article no particular groups were omitted from the inquiry. However, participants had to meet certain criteria in order to participate. “Parents were eligible to participate if they spoke English and had at least 1 child between 3 and 5 years of age attending the center in which the focus group was conducted” (Hinkley, Salmon, Okely, Crawford, & Hesketh, 2011, p.40). The authors also mentioned that both male and female participants were invited, but only mothers agreed to participate, which can be as a result of the nature of the study. The group that was excluded from participation includes individuals that speak language different than English, which can be considered unethical. I believe that anyone has the right to participate in this type of study in regards of their cultural, intellectual or ethnical background. Furthermore, the authors do not provide the reader with rationale behind the exclusion criteria or explanation to the interested participant why they were not chosen to participate.
Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/r39_australian_code_responsible _conduct_research_150107.pdf
Hinkley, T., Salmon, J., Okely, A. D., Crawford, D., & Hesketh, K. (2011). Influences on preschool children’s physical activity: exploration through focus groups. Family & Community Health, 34(1), 39-50. doi:10.1097/FCH.0b013e31820590d6
Israel, M., & Hay, I. (2006). Research Ethics for Social Scientists: Between Ethical Conduct and Regulatory Compliance. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Polit, D. F., & Beck, C. T. (2011). Nursing research: Generating and assessing evidence for nursing practice. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Retrieved from http://online.vitalsource.com/books/9781451123913
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