Because the sociologists are dealing with human subjects and with varying lifestyles, personalities, values, and traditions, he encounters research problems that are often very different from those faced by the natural scientist.
Changing Conditions in Sociological Research
The sociologist must be aware of the continuous modification of social conditions, which necessitates time and space qualifications in all reports. Although changes occur in the physical sciences, the degree of change within relatively short periods of time may be much more dramatic within the social sciences. For example, planning, coordinating, and conducting sociological research is usually a time consuming process. If one wanted to keep tabs on what types of crime were most prevalent in a community so that preventive measures might be implemented, a study that would last one year might be undertaken. After data collection, analysis, and review of the findings, authorities may discover that the incidence of a particular kind of offense has diminished and new crime problems have emerged.
The sociologist must also, be aware that the very fact of studying social behavior has an effect upon it, sometimes changing it radically. The natural scientist must also be aware of this effect, but the impact is less relevant for a scientist who is studying atoms in a test tube or elements in an astronomical universe.
Ethical Considerations in Sociological Research
Unlike the natural and physical sciences, Sociology has great limitations placed on it regarding what kinds of research are ethically and morally acceptable. A sociologist deals with human subjects and must respect their rights, wishes, and dignity. Many of the research projects conducted at universities, governmental agencies, and foundations must go through a Human Subjects Committee or Board that decides whether the research is acceptable.
There are four ethical considerations that researchers must address when designing a research study. All participants of a sociological study should be aware of the following:
- The Nature of the Study
- The Risks and Benefits
- Voluntary Participation
The Nature of the Study in Research
Individuals who participate in a research study must obtain a fair description of what the study will consist of Researchers do not need to explain why they are conducting the research and what their hypotheses are regarding the study, however, they need to inform the subjects what will be done to them.
The Risks and Benefits
Subjects needs be informed of the risks arid benefits to them if they participate in the study. For example, if a large contraceptive manufacturer tests a new birth control method on a sample of women; the women should be informed if this method of birth control is suspected of having any harmful side effects. The subjects then have the option of participating or not in the study.
Confidentiality in research
Subjects to be assured of confidentiality information should not leak out that might match a name of a specific subject to his/her responses or behaviors. Survey studies therefore often use only code numbers to identify respondent.
Subjects should recognize that their participation in the study is voluntary. After reading or hearing the description of the study and the risks benefits to them should they participate in it, subjects need to be informed that they have the right not to participate, and to withdraw their participation at any time during the study.