Rather than selecting participants merely based on availability or convenience, researchers should seek to select participants based on their appropriateness for the study topic or problem.Moreover, researchers should be careful to not over (or under) sample vulnerable populations, such as children, women, and persons belonging to minority populations, to ensure equitable distribution of the sample. This can minimize participant burden while enhancing applicability of findings to a broader audience.1,2
Selecting Research Participants
In their article regarding the ethical challenges they faced in conducting research after Hurricane Katrina, Barron Ausbrooks and colleagues discussed the various decisions they made in designing and carrying out their research. Notably, the authors highlighted how they worked to ensure that research participants were selected in a manner that minimized participant burden and enhanced representation of different groups.1
“We chose to conduct our research in schools in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area in part because we felt confident that the population of survivors in this area would have been subjects in research less frequently than people who had been relocated to Baton Rouge or Houston, the two major relocation cities. Furthermore, our primary subjects were youth, who also would not likely have been asked to participate in many other research projects.”1
In addition to equitable selection of participants, all individuals involved in a study should also be treated fairly. The Adapted Summary of a Public Health Ethics Framework developed by Kass (2001) provides a list of questions that researchers can ask themselves to ensure that proposed interventions, policy proposals, programs, and research initiatives are implemented fairly.
Are the Research Activities Implemented Fairly?
- Is the distribution of benefits and burdens equitable?
- Does one group receive the benefits and another the burdens?
- Will the research increase or decrease inequalities?
- Should certain populations or groups be targeted?
- Is there a risk of creating or perpetuating stereotypes or of stigmatizing some groups?3
1.Barron Ausbrooks CY, Barrett EJ, Martinez-Cosio M. Ethical issues in disaster research: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina. Population Research and Policy Review. 2009;28(1). doi:10.1007/s11113-008-9112-7
2.O’Mathúna D. Research ethics in the context of humanitarian emergencies. Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine. 2015;8(1). doi:10.1111/jebm.12136
3.Kass NE. An ethics framework for public health. American Journal of Public Health. 2001;91(11):1776-1782.