Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Research

Ethical Concerns

Experimental research may be manipulated on both ends of the spectrum: by researcher and by reader. Researchers who report on experimental research, faced with naive readers of experimental research, encounter ethical concerns. While they are creating an experiment, certain objectives and intended uses of the results might drive and skew it. Looking for specific results, they may ask questions and look at data that support only desired conclusions. Conflicting research findings are ignored as a result. Similarly, researchers, seeking support for a particular plan, look only at findings which support that goal, dismissing conflicting research.

Editors and journals do not publish only trouble-free material. As readers of experiments members of the press might report selected and isolated parts of a study to the public, essentially transferring that data to the general population which may not have been intended by the researcher. Take, for example, oat bran. A few years ago, the press reported how oat bran reduces high blood pressure by reducing cholesterol. But that bit of information was taken out of context. The actual study found that when people ate more oat bran, they reduced their intake of saturated fats high in cholesterol. People started eating oat bran muffins by the ton, assuming a causal relationship when in actuality a number of confounding variables might influence the causal link.

Ultimately, ethical use and reportage of experimentation should be addressed by researchers, reporters and readers alike.

Reporters of experimental research often seek to recognize their audience's level of knowledge and try not to mislead readers. And readers must rely on the author's skill and integrity to point out errors and limitations. The relationship between researcher and reader may not sound like a problem, but after spending months or years on a project to produce no significant results, it may be tempting to manipulate the data to show significant results in order to jockey for grants and tenure.

Meanwhile, the reader may uncritically accept results that receive validity by being published in a journal. However, research that lacks credibility often is not published; consequentially, researchers who fail to publish run the risk of being denied grants, promotions, jobs, and tenure. While few researchers are anything but earnest in their attempts to conduct well-designed experiments and present the results in good faith, rhetorical considerations often dictate a certain minimization of methodological flaws.

Concerns arise if researchers do not report all, or otherwise alter, results. This phenomenon is counterbalanced, however, in that professionals are also rewarded for publishing critiques of others' work. Because the author of an experimental study is in essence making an argument for the existence of a causal relationship, he or she must be concerned not only with its integrity, but also with its presentation. Achieving persuasiveness in any kind of writing involves several elements: choosing a topic of interest, providing convincing evidence for one's argument, using tone and voice to project credibility, and organizing the material in a way that meets expectations for a logical sequence. Of course, what is regarded as pertinent, accepted as evidence, required for credibility, and understood as logical varies according to context. If the experimental researcher hopes to make an impact on the community of professionals in their field, she must attend to the standards and orthodoxy's of that audience.

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