Secular Research Guidelines

Ethics for Journalists, Researchers

A list of rules that must be followed by those dealing in Catholic theology has already been posted to this site. But reporters and researchers also must observe secular ethical standards in their profession to guard the credibility of the information they present to the public and abide by standards dictated by courtesy and common sense. For the most part, these standards basically reflect the dictates of the 10 Commandments and Catholic ethical practices. We see the devastating results today when these professionals do not follow these standards faithfully and we have witnessed how it has succeeded in misleading the American people. The same can be said in the religious sphere. Even basic ethical guidelines forbid much of what is happening on the Internet today, and articles by Traditionalists and others treating theology can be seen as falling far short of the mark set out in what is presented below.

Secular Research Ethics

  1. Honesty — Honestly report data, results, methods and procedures, and publication status. Do not fabricate, falsify, or misrepresent data. Do not deceive colleagues, research sponsors, or the public.
  2. Objectivity — Strive to avoid bias in data analysis, data interpretation, peer review and other aspects of research where objectivity is expected or required. Avoid or minimize bias or self-deception. Disclose personal or financial interests that may affect research.
  3. Integrity — Keep your promises and agreements; act with sincerity; strive for consistency of thought and action.
  4. Carefulness  — Avoid careless errors and negligence; carefully and critically examine your own work and the work of your peers. Keep good records of research activities, such as data collection and correspondence with agencies or journals.
  5. Openness — Share data, results, ideas, tools, resources. Be open to criticism and new ideas.
  6. Transparency — Disclose methods, materials, assumptions, analyses, and other information needed to evaluate your research.
  7. Accountability — Take responsibility for your part in research and be prepared to give an account (i.e. an explanation or justification) of what you did on a research project and why.
  8. Intellectual Property — Honor patents, copyrights, and other forms of intellectual property. Do not use unpublished data, methods, or results without permission. Give proper acknowledgement or credit for all contributions to research. Never plagiarize.
  9. Confidentiality — Protect confidential communications and sources.
  10. Responsible Publication — Publish in order to advance research and scholarship, not to advance just your own career. Avoid wasteful and duplicative publication.
  11. Respect for Colleagues — Respect your colleagues and treat them fairly.
  12. Competence — Maintain and improve your own professional competence and expertise through lifelong education and learning; take steps to promote competence in science as a whole.
Procedure in Historical Research

(Summarized from guidelines compiled by a university professor)

1. History experts and professors advise students to base their research on as many primary sources as possible. Primary sources include diaries, personal journals, memoirs, letters and legal documents.

2. The experts also advise a thorough reading of secondary sources, meaning a summary of or commentary on primary sources, biographies, interview-based articles, and other non-fiction works. Researchers are strongly encouraged to incorporate views of as many secondary sources as possible.

3. Research works must be built on evidence solidly supported by verifiable sources. Writing history papers is much like presenting a case in court — it must be based on evidence.

4. Evidence, however, is not always clear. It must be analyzed, cross-referenced, evaluated and carefully put together to present the strongest possible case.

5. Emotions cannot enter into an evaluation and one must be extremely careful in making judgments.

6. Researchers must be part detective, part investigative journalist in piecing together evidence from a variety of sources to answer historical questions. This might be difficult to determine in the case of missing, insufficient or contradictory evidence.

7. Counter-evidence must always be considered. Opposing information and interpretation is essential to a fair evaluation of the topic.

8. Events must be examined in their proper context, referencing statistics, and taking historical timeframes, geography, and the character of historical figures and their cohorts into full consideration.

9. The who, what, where, when and why questions of the journalist must be answered. When the available sources fail to provide complete information, inference can be used to fill the gaps. This can help the historian piece everything together into a plausible whole.

And this is only the basic framework on which to build an historical investigation. Most of the general population are not equipped to follow these instructions and this is why the Church conducted such investigations — to inform and guide the average lay person.

Revisionist History

“To be sure, taking a revisionist view of the events from the past is no small effort. Just as St. Augustine demanded hard study and research before any views be taken, the same is true now. The Internet is filled with countless sources that challenge popular perceptions of historical events, but not all of those sources are credible. Before a source is considered it is wise to investigate the information on which the perspective based. If the source shows the signs of reliability, such as referenced and documented support, then it is worthy of entering into a debate regarding the influences upon history.”

Historical Revisionism (negationism)

By British historian Richard J. Evans

“Reputable and professional historians:

1) Do not suppress parts of quotations from documents that go against their own case, but take them into account, and, if necessary, amend their own case, accordingly.

2) They do not present, as genuine, documents which they know to be forged just because these forgeries happen to back up what they are saying.

3) They do not invent ingenious, but implausible, and utterly unsupported reasons for distrusting genuine documents, because these documents run counter to their arguments; again, they amend their arguments, if this is the case, or, indeed, abandon them altogether.

4) They do not consciously attribute their own conclusions to books and other sources, which, in fact, on closer inspection, actually say the opposite.

From The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan, pg. xiii: “Sometimes we abuse history, creating one-sided or false histories to justify treating others badly; seizing their land, for example, or killing them. There are also many lessons and much advice offered by history, and it is easy to pick and choose what you want. The past can be used for almost anything you want to do in the present. We abuse it when we create lies about the past or write histories that show only one perspective. We can draw our lessons carefully or badly.”

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