General ethics in research in the Science Faculty
The principal aim of the Science Faculty Ethics Committee is to maintain the highest possible ethical standards of research within the Faculty. This should not be separated from our main research goal, which would be to produce the highest quality of research per se. But high quality research cannot be measured as such unless it meets with the equivalent in terms of ethical standards. Some elements of this are explored in the article 'On Being a Scientist' published by the US National Academy of Sciences. Research must be conducted in such a way as to be responsible by which the researchers are aware not only of the way they carry out the project in question, but also the possible effects of its results. Some examples can be found in the accompanying article on 'Good Science – Bad Science' published recently in Nature.
There are additional issues in the case where the research involves human participants (i.e. as 'subjects' in the project) and the need to ensure that there is anonymity where appropriate or required, that they are not in any way harmed by the research and that they are fully cognisant of the aims and outcomes of the research (i.e. there is so-called informed consent). But there are other elements of the research process that also have ethics considerations including issues around authorship - for example what should be the order of names in a multi-authored paper? Still other concerns might relate to permission to access property and ensuring that necessary research permits have been obtained.
The Faculty takes the issue of ethics in research very seriously and to this end has established, in line with University policy, Research Ethics Committee, the terms of reference for which include:
- to consider all ethical matters related to research in the Faculty including, but not exclusively, conflicts of interest, authorship, the relationships between junior and senior research workers, and the role of the scientist in society
- to deal with any ethical issues brought to the attention of the Committee by researchers in the Faculty
- to screen and approve, or otherwise, all research proposals in the Faculty that relate to human subjects; this includes proposed research involving students or staff, by UCT researchers or by outside visiting researchers
- to be aware that research questionnaires involving human subjects have ethical dimensions, and that research involving staff or student perceptions of race, identity or ethnicity also have ethical dimensions
- to report to the Senate Ethics in Research Committee and, in addition, report all instances of unethical or improper research practice to the Dean for referral to the Chair of the University Research Committee.
Applications for ethical clearance are considered by the Committee; the application form may be downloaded here.