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Discussion Assignment: The Question of Justifiable Risk

“Ethics in Early Childhood Research,” introduced two basic and essential research terms: “risk/benefit equation” and “minimal risk.” “Risk/benefit equation” refers to the idea that when research promises to result in great benefits for society, high risk for individual research participants becomes more acceptable. Though the word “equation” is usually associated with mathematics and generates images of equality, balance, and precision, in research, such an image of precise balance between risks and benefits is unrealistic because neither risks nor benefits can be determined by the researcher with absolute certainty. If you asked a member of an Institutional Review Board (IRB), i.e., professionals charged with evaluating the merits of suggested research projects, whether there always is agreement as to the merits of risks in research, you will hear of numerous disagreements and intense discussions about the extent of risks and benefits related to studies involving humans. The term “minimal risk” implies that ethical research studies are designed so that the risks to humans do not exceed any risks they would encounter in living their ordinary everyday lives. You also learned that under certain circumstances, researchers are permitted to expose the study participants to greater than minimal risks.

Keep this information in mind as you consider the following questions:

Why might opinions of researchers vary with regard to risks or benefits of a research study?

What does the term “greater good” mean to you?

What, if any, conditions can you envision where the “greater good” is more important than an individual child’s welfare?

What circumstances, if any, can you envision in which an early childhood researcher’s personal values might be in conflict with specific ethics guidelines?

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