Right the way through
The need to act ethically extends right the way through your project, and includes the way you present your data and refer to other people’s work
You need to act ethically towards other researchers – people you have probably never met – as well as everyone directly involved in your project. This means considering researchers whose work you draw on, and possible future researchers who might refer to your work. The following two case studies illustrate that it is easy to make mistakes, for example if you are up against a deadline. Both Heather and Sol had interesting, well-focused projects and did some excellent work – but each slipped up towards the end.
Case study 7: Biodiversity
Heather was interested in the way that land management affects biodiversity. Her EPQ research question was ‘How does controlled burning of moorland affect biodiversity? And what is the optimum time between burns?’ She visited a moorland national park and, with the help of a park ranger, identified areas that had been burned – some recently, others longer ago. Using techniques from her biology course, she surveyed the areas and collected data on plant and insect species in spring and in summer. She read reports of similar work published in journals and on websites.
When she came to analyse her own data, Heather found that her results did not seem to fit the patterns described in the published work. She wondered whether to alter her data to give the results she thought would be correct, but decided just to leave out the data that did not seem to fit.
Case study 8: Sundial
For his EPQ, Sol designed and made an ornamental sundial for a garden. His project involved surveying the site, developing a design brief, researching historical and modern sundials, sketching and making scale models, and exploring different materials before producing the final object. He evaluated the sundial’s performance by photographing it at intervals over several weeks.
When writing his project report, Sol was short of time to complete some sections. He went to the websites that he had used for his research and, changing a few words, pasted in some text that he thought was better than he could have written himself.
Presenting someone else’s work as your own is plagiarism, which is regarded as a serious wrongdoing. It is sometimes said to be theft of intellectual property, but it is also a form of lying – you are pretending that you did some work but really you did not. Changing a few words does not help – it is still plagiarism. Even if someone agrees to write a section for you, and even if you pay them, it is still plagiarism.
There are software packages that teachers and examiners can use to scan the internet and identify work that has been plagiarised, so one reason to avoid plagiarism is that you will probably be found out and penalised.
Activity 8: Good report?
In a pair or small group, discuss the following questions. Refer to the ethical frameworks to help you explain your reasoning.
Why is plagiarism ethically wrong? Think about this from the point of view of someone whose work has been plagiarised, and of someone reading a report containing plagiarised work.
Why is altering data ethically wrong? Why is it wrong just to select data that seem to fit an expected pattern? Think about this from the point of view of people making decisions based on the reported results, and of future researchers who might want to draw on the report for their own work.
Then discuss what Sol and Heather should have done.