For now, the University defines itself as a research-informed institution. This is largely because of its background; it was founded as a training institution. However, since 2007 when the University changed from being a technikon and became a university of technology, it has made huge strides towards growing its research output. This effort has seen the institution get recognition from the National Research Foundation.
To ensure that University staff continue ethically conducting research and that the new and aspiring researchers get off on the right footing, the Research Professor in the Faculty of Natural Sciences, Professor Theo Davies, presented a public lecture on ethics on 4 November 2022. Professor Davies’ topic was: “The Nature and Application of Professional Ethics in Scientific Research and Fieldwork in Africa: Particular Reference to the Geosciences”.
Professor Davies, an Alexander von Humboldt scholar, argued that “worldwide interest in professional ethics in academia, including in the basic and applied sciences, has grown dramatically in the last decade; and recent research has confirmed that the geoscience profession, in particular, considers ethics to be of prime importance for all its practitioners”. Professor Davies said in academia it is of special concern in the scholarly publishing industry, in project formulation, execution and management, and in fieldwork situations.
During this virtual presentation, Professor Davies listed the following as some areas that researchers need to be careful of when conducting their enquiries: conflict of interest, stolen projects, data manipulation, plagiarism, poor mentorship, examination malpractice, peer review, disrespect for colleagues and senior academics, and informed consent. Professor Davies said researchers must use the available and approved principles as a guide when they are doing their enquiries. These principles must clearly state how they need to deal with their subjects. Professor Davies called these principles “codes of ethics”, which he defined as “formal statements that set forth standards of ethical behaviour for members of a specific group”. He pointed out that there is a need for researchers to subscribe to this code of conduct, a commitment that makes them professionals.
Professor Davies further highlighted informed consent as “a founding principle of ethics”. In terms of this principle, human subjects must be informed of their rights when they participate in research and be given all the information they need to know about the research. They are free to be part of the research, and they can decide to leave or stop participating at any time.
Where animals are used as subjects of enquiry, Professor Davies recommended that researchers carefully consider the reduction of the animals used; the refinement of techniques and procedures to reduce pain and distress, and the replacement of conscious living animals with insentient material.
Professor Davies said that anyone who plans to use animals in research or teaching, must be familiar with the relevant regulations and the guide, and must receive appropriate training before beginning work.