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professional ethics

  Moral standards concerning professional conduct, specifying what is right or wrong practice. \'Medical ethics\' involves a set of rules governing the conduct of doctors, for example: making sexual advances to patients is unethical, as is breaching the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship. Standards of professional ethics are likely to be adopted and observed very widely, if not universally, in societies sharing the same broad culture and code of morality. Unresolved ethical issues in medicine and health can generate heated public debate, for example euthanasia, and the cloning of animals for human spare parts.

Ethical issues arise in academic research, the more so when the subject is humankind. Some rules of conduct are clear-cut: it is unethical to engage in plagiarism (i.e. to present the work of others as one\'s own), to invent data and to falsify results. Such conduct is different from doing \'bad\' research in a technical sense, however. For example, fitting a linear trend through a curvilinear relationship is incorrect, but not unethical unless the result is knowingly misrepresented.

More difficult ethical questions arise in survey research, especially qualitative methods (cf. survey analysis). Should research workers always reveal their true identity and reasons for seeking information, for example, if this could prejudice the inquiry by making informants less forthcoming (researchers sometimes pose as prospective job applicants or house purchasers, in order to test whether their race has a bearing on how they are treated)? Should interviews be tape-recorded without the subject\'s knowledge? There is also the broader question of whether it is right to use people for research from which they may gain nothing.

Research on politically contentious topics is sometimes accompanied by charges of unethical conduct. An example is Jewish Israeli settlement of Palestine, the analysis of which has been involved in accusations of bias and distortion of evidence (e.g. papers in the Political Geography Quarterly, 10:3, 1991).

There are lively debates on professional ethics within geography. These have been prompted in part by the changing societal context within which academic workers are required to operate, including increased competition for resources along with the commercialization and commodification of knowledge. The importance of having one\'s personal or institutional name on a publication raises questions of intellectual property rights, for example, such as who is entitled to claim the results of research, and the right to publish or realize any commercial advantage to be derived from new knowledge? Is it right to seek research grants or publish particular kinds of work in order to boost departmental or personal performance indicators such as external income or citation ratings? Such questions are helpful in raising awareness of the moral basis of choice in academic activity.

Innovations in the collection, display and dissemination of information, such as geographical information systems and the Internet, pose ethical issues, at least for some of their users. The more traditional devices of the map and photograph have been found to contain moral messages. How \'we\' scholars represent the lives of \'others\' is increasingly a matter of critical reflection. Thus, the construction (or production) of geographical knowledge is now widely regarded as part of our problematic. (DMS)

Suggested Reading Corry, M.R. 1991: On the possibility of ethics in geography. Writing, citing and the construction of intellectual property. Progress in Human Geography 15: 125-47. Crampton, J. 1995: The ethics of GIS. Cartography and Cartographic Information Systems 22: 84-9. Hay, I. 1998: Making moral imaginations. Research ethics, pedagogy, and professional human geography. Ethics, Place and Environment 1: 55-75. Kirby, A. 1991: On ethics and power in higher education. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 15 1: 75-7 (and the papers following). Rose, G. 1997: Situating knowledge: positionality, reflexivities and other tactics. Progress in Human Geography 21: 305-20. Smith, D.M. 1994: On professional responsibility to distant others. Area 26: 359-67. Winchester, H.P.M. 1996: Ethical issues in interviewing as a research method in human geography. Australian Geographer 2: 117-31.



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