The theory and practice of teaching research ethics

Steve Olivier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is general agreement that research involving human participants is important to the development of new knowledge in several areas. However, the interface between science and society has historically been beset with conflict. Positivist research paradigms, in particular, have been perceived to potentially impinge on group and individual rights. Nevertheless, utilitarian judgements dominate the practice of research, raising the question of whether researchers are likely to give adequate consideration to questions such as the autonomy of research participants. More pertinently, given the functionalist approach to teaching in Human Movement Studies and allied disciplines, are young researchers and students being provided with the means to identify and attempt to resolve ethical dilemmas in research contexts? It is contended that ethical awareness, and improving the capability of ethical decision-making, should be approached through a process of education. In practice, students learn first by doing and then by extrapolating principles from what they have done. In order to teach the abstract notion of research ethics successfully, teaching must start with what is known, and progress in a systematic way until students develop the necessary skills to critically evaluate and apply the relevant principles. This can be achieved by training in research methodology, introduction to ethical theory, familiarisation with relevant reading material, discussion of seminal research as case studies, critical examination of current research, and evaluation of personal research projects. This method raises consciousness of the issues involved, encourages young researchers to take certain questions seriously and generates discussion about them. The crucial element in addressing problems of scientific misconduct involves education, rather than sanction after the fact.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-67
Number of pages13
JournalSouth African Journal for Research in Sport, Physical Education and Recreation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • Sports medicine
  • Ethics
  • Science
  • Research


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