Research ethics – why do we need it?
Ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with right and wrong and the development of guidelines that distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Scientists who carry out research projects involving humans or animals spend a lot of time thinking not only about the scientific content of their work, but also about the potential impact of their work on the organisms that they study: the health, privacy, and dignity of the subjects participating in their studies. Science fair projects are a great way to learn about many important concepts in experiment design that relate to project ethics.
Ethics requirements at GVRSF
Youth Science Canada (YSC) has developed ethics policies that apply to science fair projects completed by all elementary and high school students in Canada. You must follow these guidelines in order to qualify for participation in the GVRSF.
Complete guidelines regarding the use of humans and animals in student research projects can be found on the YSC website: http://ethics.youthscience.ca. To help you determine whether these guidelines apply to your project and what forms you need to fill out, please ensure you review our ethics flow chart before starting your project:
Our goal is to ensure that projects meet the YSC ethics guidelines and hence remain eligible for entry into both the GVRSF and the Canada-Wide Science Fair. We encourage students and teachers to become familiar with these guidelines - not only to avoid disqualification and disappointment, but also to understand the basic principles of research ethics.
The flow chart link above can direct you to forms that should be completed before or during their projects, including the Research Plan for Projects Involving Animals (for projects involving vertebrate animals and cephalopods), examples of Letter of Information and Consent Forms (for all projects involving humans), and the Research Plan for Significant Risk Projects (for all projects with human subjects that involve significant risk).
Projects by more than two students
Please also note that projects involving work completed by more than two students are ineligible for entry into the Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair, regardless of the quality of the work. It is therefore a mistake to allow three or more students to start working on a project.
Interested learning more about research ethics? The National Institutes of Health in the USA has a short booklet that introduces the main ideas:
Ethics Forms and Plans
Request for ethics advice
Ethics Interactive Quiz
Human Involvement - Low Risk (Form 4.1A)
Human Involvement - Significant Risk (Form 4.1B)
Animal Involvement (Form 4.1C)
Animal Research Plan
Letter of Information (Example)
Informed consent form (Sample)
Ethics Flowchart (French)
Mentorship help for Mentors
Mentorship pocket-guide from CIHR