In the twenty-first century, most universities expect anyone undertaking research to consider ethics and also to seek formal ethical approval for the research before undertaking it. Achieving the balance between ensuring that ethics are taken into consideration while avoiding being overwhelmed by bureaucracy is difficult, especially in universities that are only beginning to ensure that full approvals are sought and given before the work starts. In some respects, it could be argued that the procedures for ethics clearance could be so onerous and the bureaucracy so labyrinthine that you might be put off carrying out research that involves human subjects, however harmless and benign it might clearly be. You will need to seek some support from your supervisor in gaining ethical clearance for your work if it does involve human subjects, even in the social sciences, rather than in a clinical or scientific situation for which situations ethical clearance first developed. The main point to remember is that it is important to protect those who provide you with your information, to protect the innocent and vulnerable, and to protect both yourself and the university from harm and litigation — albeit that you cannot see any possible harm.
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