Back to resources

Analysing data

All too often the ethical issues involved in research are in danger of being ‘put to one side’ when the gathered data is being analysed. It may be assumed that once consent is achieved, permissions gained and direct interaction with the source is no longer maintained, that there are no ethical issues to consider. It is as if the analysis of the data can be conducted ‘objectively’, in a detached way, even in a moral vacuum. This is a dangerous assumption and the links below show why.



The American Political Science Association became involved in a major internal argument in 2018, following the decision of its major journals to require open availability of the data sets underlying published papers. There had been long-running tensions within the Association between practitioners of quantitative and qualitative research. These documents report on the deliberative process created by the Association to try to resolve the dispute and the challenges presented by unreflective demands for transparency to promote research integrity.

Misconduct in Data Analysis

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process. Retraction Watch offers a website logging journal article retractions, most of which are due to misconduct in data analysis.

Ethical Issues and Guidelines for Conducting Data Analysis in Psychological Research (Wasserman 2012) – This is a journal article requiring access permission.

Psychologists are directed by ethical guidelines in most areas of their practice. However, there are very few guidelines for conducting data analysis in research. The aim of this article is to address the need for more extensive ethical guidelines for researchers who are post–data collection and beginning their data analyses. Improper data analysis is an ethical issue because it can result in publishing false or misleading conclusions. This article includes a review of ethical implications of improper data analysis and potential causes of unethical practices. In addition, current guidelines in psychology and other areas (e.g., American Psychological Association and American Statistical Association Ethics Codes) were used to inspire a list of recommendations for ethical conduct in data analysis that is appropriate for researchers in psychology

Privacy and Commercial Use

This is a web page discussing ethical issues around collecting and using customer data for business purposes and balancing that with privacy

Big data is not only big–it is also powerful and error prone, notes Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst with Altimeter Group, in her 2014 TED talk. “At this point in our history… we can process exabytes of data at lightning speed, which also means we have the potential to make bad decisions far more quickly, efficiently, and with far greater impact than we did in the past.”
Besides the potential for bad decisions, Etlinger believes that humans place too much faith in technology, including, for example, our blind acceptance of charts and graphs developed from big data analysis.


Ethical Data Analysis, in Kara H (2017) Research Ethics in the Real World (Policy Press).

Research ethics and integrity are growing in importance as academics face increasing pressure to win grants and publish, and universities promote themselves in the competitive HE market. Research Ethics in the Real World is the first book to highlight the links between research ethics and individual, social, professional, institutional, and political ethics. Drawing on Indigenous and Euro-Western research traditions, Helen Kara considers all stages of the research process, from the formulation of a research question to aftercare for participants, data and findings. She argues that knowledge of both ethical approaches is helpful for researchers working in either paradigm.
Students, academics, and research ethics experts from around the world contribute real-world perspectives on navigating and managing ethics in practice. Research Ethics in the Real World provides guidance for quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods researchers from all disciplines about how to act ethically throughout your research work. This book is invaluable in supporting teachers of research ethics to design and deliver effective courses.