Ethics Management

The School of Applied Psychology Research Ethics Committee accepts applications through our online Ethics Application Form.

Prior to completing an application, please consult the UCC Code of Research Conduct to ensure that it is compliant.

Only applications submitted via the online portal will be accepted, however applicants can use the current Ethics Application Form to draft an application before submitting it through the online system.  

Staff and PhD ethics applications are to be submitted directly to SREC.

Previously approved ethics applications which now are being amended please use the original Ethics Application Form. APREC will meet monthly in Semester 1 to discuss these amended applications.  Contact ethics.ap@ucc.ie for an update on these dates.

Undergraduate and Taught Masters Ethics Process

This application process is for undergraduate students and master students of the School of Applied Psychology who are applying for ethical approval for data collection from human participants. We recognise that this is a learning process for you. It is entirely possible that you will omit important information and may not fully demonstrate how you are adhering to the required ethical principles. Consequently, you first attempt may not be approved. However, you will received detailed feedback that help you make a successful second submission.

For this reason, submit your application in plenty of time. You could expect an initial response within two in semester weeks (this will be longer outside of semester time). Should you have to resubmit, this would add another two in semester weeks to the process, plus the time you would need to prepare a re-submission.

Once you receive approval, you are authorised to collect data only as outlined in your application.

Should you need to vary this, you can resubmit your application requesting a minor amendment. Should we discover through checking that you varied your data collection without seeking ethical approval this data may have to be discarded, and this would have implications for your thesis.

If you discover that you have collected any oher data not covered by your application, you need to report this to your supervisor.

Ethics Commitee

Chairperson: Dr David O'Sullivan (david.osullivan@ucc.ie)

Members:

Dr Anna O'Reilly-Trace

Dr Christian Ryan

Dr Annalisa Setti

Notes on Ethics on the Internet

The distinction between the professional and personal image is difficult to maintain on the internet. The researcher should keep this distinction in mind both for themselves, and for any participants who may be tempted by the relative anonymity of the internet to divulge information about themselves that can be revealing, or damaging.

At the same time, because of the anonymity of the internet, the researcher should take care to ensure that critical data provided by a subject is in fact true; or be able to draw a boundary of uncertainty about the data on the principle of "triangulation." A particular problem is posed by individuals who may be under age or at risk in some way posing as of competent age, or as not at risk. The researcher should not absolve themselves of the responsibility of seeking out the real identity of their subjects if this is a danger. For instance, talking about sexual behaviour with a person who may not be ready for such a discussion.

Since it is easy to disappear on the internet, the researcher must take care to be able to be able to contact a subject for debriefing or damage mitigation should a break in the communication channel happen.

Screen names and logon names are by definition unique, certainly within a system of chatrooms. The researcher must take care to disguise such names so that individuals cannot be traced back, or that others may not read your conclusions about the person behind the screen name.

Items of information such as ISP numbers, session codes, and URIs can be used to discover the identity of the person sending you the information; much information may be conveyed involuntarily. So be careful to permanently delete as much of such information as you can.

On the internet, all activity is by its very nature recorded somewhere; perhaps in many locations. If a subject provides you with confidential information about themselves, you should be aware that this information may reside on a number of servers for an indefinite period of time; not just on your own computer. Some users are more informed about the internet than others. The researcher must endeavour to ascertain whether their subject knows the risks they are facing when transmitting information, and to ensure the subject realises how great is the likelihood that the information the subject provides may be received by others. One way to avoid this happening is to encode information being passed between the experimenter and the subject using some sort of scheme like PGP. This may increase the complexity of participation on your subject of course, or raise all sorts of other security worries in your subject's mind about the kind of research you are doing.

Your own computer is most probably unsafe, as there exist many ways in which a computer connected to the internet can be attacked and its information stolen. If you keep information on a laptop, then there is always the risk that your laptop may be stolen or lost, and someone else will have access to confidential information. What is more, information which resides on your computer may be used by experts in ways in which you cannot imagine, to draw correlations and to extract inferences about the people who have provided the data. So even innocuous-looking data may compromise your subject when used in conjunction with other data an attacker may have. How will you guard against this kind of possibility? You must ensure that for every item of personal data about other people you store on your computers, you have a system of encryption that is relatively secure. The onus is on the researcher to establish this.

The researcher should become familiar with the process of deleting information on a computer. On most operating systems, the 'delete' function does not actually make information unusable; it simply marks a portion of a hard disk or memory key as being usable for more information storage some other time. Thus if a researcher relies on the deletion of sensitive information in order to remain ethical they must also consider how to effectively wipe out such deleted information, by using some kind of over-writing function. Such utilities are freely available on the internet. Some computer programs (eg word processors) may use an un-encrypted part of computer memory to store partially-completed documents, and most browsers will have a 'history' trace. The researcher should become familiar with this kind of unseen storage of information if privacy of information is an ethical concern of theirs.

Information passed in a public chatroom or some such forum is being recorded on many computers already. Do you need to ask for permission to record this data? On the other hand, most people engage in public fora on the assumption that their words etc. will not be analysed. Many people are more open and revealing about themselves on the internet. So a researcher using this kind of data must take care to consider their ethical position with regard to public information provided by individuals, who may not be aware that what they write may tell someone alse much more about them than they imagine, and that it may be subjected to some kind of psychological analysis.

 

List of useful URLs

Ethical and Legal Aspects of Human Subjects Research in Cyberspace from the AAAS.
Ethics in Cyberspace Research: Consent, Privacy and Contribution from John Suler's The Psychology of Cyberspace
Ethics in the age of the Internet from the APA's Monitor on Psychology Volume 39, No. 7 July/August 2008 
PGP Corporation Web Site

 

References

PSI Code of EthicsBPS Code of EthicsData Protection Act

Other Ethics Bodies in UCC

From the booklet entitled An Introduction to Research Ethics at UCC (1st July, 2007) the ethics bodies in UCC are as follows:

The Clinical Research Ethics Committee of the Cork Teaching Hospitals
Note that the remit of this committee  comprises [sic] the granting or refusing of permission on ethical grounds for research projects...
The Animal Experimentation Ethics Committee
Note that  AEEC approval is required for animal experiments carried out by UCC staff.
The Social Research Ethics Committee
Note that this committee  has ethical oversight of non-clinical research involving human participants.

In addition, the University has published a Code of Good Conduct in Research (July, 2007).

School of Applied Psychology

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