Ethical values are common to research whether quantitative or qualitative. The ethical virtues of research may have a pragmatic basis. E.g. doors may be closed in the future if research is badly conducted. However, ethical concerns have inherent value even where they limit the aspects of research. Scientific integrity means that the researcher should be faithful to the collected data and not be guided by who is paying or supporting.
In medicine, ethical values influence the relation between the sick person and the clinician. When it comes to occupational health, the situation is even more demanding because stronger commercial interests may intervene. The occupational health professional should realize this and react accordingly. The situation with regard to maritime medicine is no different. The privacy of the study subjects should always be protected. This may compel the researcher to refrain from otherwise obvious investigations or analyses. The researcher must also meet the requirements for social responsibility by thinking about how others will use his research. It is wise to be diplomatic by not exacerbating relationships that are already problematic. In the dialogue with stakeholders ethics may be a quality criterion that the study subjects recognize in the conclusions. At least all actors should be involved as much as possible to make the conclusions acceptable and understandable.
The International Commission of Occupational Health has issued a mode of conduct for occupational health professionals, which is equally applicable in maritime health 34. Although the code has been designed for occupational health practitioners, the provisions cover situations and controversies that also apply to research activities in maritime medicine.
The ethical implications of research involving humans should always be analyzed in the planning phase. One crucial factor is whether those studied may or may not benefit from the research. In the last situation, the implicated risk should be assessed in absolute terms and should approach zero. Those studied should have a free choice with regard to participation and informed consent is mandatory. The Helsinki Declaration 35 regulates all biomedical research. In many countries the ethical applications in study protocols for biomedical projects have to be approved by a regional or national committee. Register studies and studies that solely use interview or questionnaires may be exempted from approval.
Good scientific conduct requires the absence of scientific malpractice of any kind. Malpractice may arise in the planning phase as well as during the investigation (false data, violation of randomization or blinding, hidden selection of data), and publication (plagiarism, authorship) of research. Multiple publications of the same findings should be avoided. The Vancouver regulations deal with these issues 12.