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Sports Med. 2002;32(3):169-83.

Ethics in exercise science research.

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Faculty of Physical Education and Health, and Department of Public Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Ethical evaluation is a vital but sometimes neglected component of research policy in the exercise sciences. This article reviews some issues in human research, with particular reference to studies undertaken by the exercise scientist. The typical composition and functions of the research review committee are examined in the context of individual and institutional ethical norms. In multicentre trials, there are often problems in coordinating ethical approval between institutions. On-going monitoring of research may have value in the detection of fraud. A reduction in the secrecy of committee proceedings would allow a closer auditing of the research review process. Authors need to give more thought to developing appropriate research questions. Scarce resources may be wasted because of inappropriate study design or an inadequate statistical analysis of the results. The costs of any proposed investigation must be weighed carefully against possible benefits. Confidentiality is particularly important when collecting data at the worksite or over the internet. Informed consent should be based on a full disclosure of risks; the participant should be competent to understand the nature and magnitude of these risks, and undue pressure to participate in an experiment must be avoided. The opposition to placebo trials expressed in the Declaration of Helsinki requires careful consideration of the use of control groups, since regular exercise is known to benefit health. If research is conducted in under-developed societies, the standards of treatment of the participants should match those expected in developed societies. The publication of findings must be fair and well balanced; examples of fraud and misconduct continue to be reported. Some journals apparently still publish papers, even if they have not received an initial institutional review. Editors should restore meaning to the word 'author', avoid the bias to a publication of 'positive' results, limit the impact of commercial sponsorship on reporting and curtail the current trend to redundant presentations and publications. Development of academic courses in research ethics may help to avoid some of these abuses.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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