Research ethics board: A test of quality

Academic research is founded on trust. Researchers work on the premise that the work reported by others reflects an honest attempt and will aid them accurately. Hence, it is imperative that all research must be approved by a formally constituted research ethics board. This body evaluates the ethical aspects of any submitted work that involves human participants, regardless of the descriptive label given to that work including research, audit, and sometimes debate.

Besides deciding whether the participants in a study have provided their consent, which is a very important factor, an appraisal of the ethical issues in a manuscript also evaluates whether the overall design and conduct of each entity involved in the work is morally acceptable.

In the case of a medical research, the committee investigates the following questions:

–          How much does the study deviate from the current normal clinical practice?

–          Is there any obligation imposed on the patients?

–          Are there any additional risks to the patients involved?

–          What are the benefits for the patients, if any?

–          What are the potential benefits for future patients as well as for the society at large?

Authors need to state clearly that their study was approved by the relevant research ethics committee or institutional review board. If human participants were involved, the manuscripts must be accompanied by a statement certifying that the experiments were undertaken with the informed consent of each. In case of animals used for experiments, the ‘Materials and Methods’ section must clearly specify the details of animal care and confirm that they were not harmed in any manner.

Even when a study has been approved by a research ethics committee or an institutional review board, editors may still have doubts on the authenticity of the submitted work. They may then ask the authors for more detailed information justifying the ethical conduct of the work. The credentials of the research ethics board that reviewed the work may also be sought in case the journal requires further information and justification from that committee. The editors can reject papers if there is any doubt regarding adherence to proper procedures.

If a paper has been submitted from a country where there is no research ethics board, editors should use their own experience and judgment to determine whether the paper should be published. If deemed fit for publication, the manuscript must include a short statement explaining the situation.

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