Ethics and Social Work Research

The NASW Code of Ethics identifies six core values upon which the practice of social work is based. From the value of Integrity the following ethical principle is derived.

"Social workers behave in a trustworthy manner. Social Workers are continually aware of the profession's mission, values, ethical principles, and ethical standards and practice in a manner consistent with them. Social workers act honestly and responsibly and promote ethical practices 0n the part of the organizations with which they are affiliated."

This principle is further specified in Section 5.02(n) of the Code.

"Social workers should report evaluation and research findings accurately. They should not fabricate or falsify results and should take steps to correct any errors later found in published data using standard publication methods."


The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects has identified additional ethical principles that should govern human research. These are discussed in detail in the Belmont Report.

The report outlines three broad principles that should guide human research:

  • Beneficence - This is the obligation of researchers maximize benefits and minimize the risk that might occur from the research investigation.
  • Respect - Respect for persons involves two ethical protections:
    • Individuals should be treated as autonomous agents (autonomy must be protected).
    • Persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection.
  • Justice - This involves insuring reasonable and non-exploitative research procedures. It also involves insuring the fair and equitable distribution of the benefits of research.


The following are case examples relevant to these ethical principles.




Here are some links to basic sources in research ethics.


  • The Nuremberg Code of 1947 - The atrocities committed by Nazi physicians and "researchers" during World War II resulted in the development of the Nuremberg Code to define appropriate experimentation utilizing human subjects. Since its formulation, the Nuremberg Code has been viewed as one of the cornerstones of modern bioethical thought.
  • Declaration of Helsinki: Recommendation for Conduct of Clinical Research - Adopted by the 18th World Medical Assembly, Helsinki, Finland, June 1964.
  • The Belmont Report - Report of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (1979).
  • The NASW Code of Ethics - Adopted by the NASW Delegate Assembly, August 1996.


Last modified: January 27, 2007
J.T. (Tim) Stocks, Ph.D. / stocks@msu.edu