Ethical Theories in Research Evaluation: An Exploratory Approach



Research evaluation encompasses the practices of assessing research quality and impact at various stages of research. The processes and criteria of research evaluation vary depending on the nature and objectives of the assessment. Different research evaluation systems influence the research strategies of universities and institutes. There are, however, some known issues of research evaluation with regards to the peer review and, most prominently, the use of citation-based metrics, which lead to recent calls for responsible use of metrics. In this paper, we argue that there is a need for ethical theories for considering research evaluation and that research evaluation ethics, as an overlapping area between research ethics and evaluation ethics, deserve its own treatment. The core of the article consists of a discussion of the most influential ethical theories in the context of the research evaluation, including the deontological ethics, the consequentialist ethics and the virtue ethics. The aim is to highlight the need to assume an ethical view that combines the deontological and the consequentialist concepts, adopting ‘common good’ as the most likely pillar for the research evaluation procedures. We propose that the mixed approach would be useful for developing a framework for research evaluation ethics and for analysing ethical approaches and ethical dilemmas in research evaluation.


Policy Highlights

The misuses and abuse of evaluative metrics have been discussed and debated in many high-profile publications including the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), The Metrics Tide, the Leiden Manifesto, and the Hong Kong Principles. There are also many studies stating the limitations of and bias in peer review.

The debates and discussions, however, have not been explored in light of ethical theories. The article considers also good practices in evaluation, including the American Evaluation Association Guiding Principles for Evaluators (AEA 2018), the Australasian Evaluation Society Guidelines for the ethical conduct of evaluations (AES 2000, 2010, 2013) the UK Evaluation Society Guidelines for Good Practices in Evaluation (UK 2019) and the United Nations Ethical Guidelines for Evaluation (UNEG 2008).

The paper argues that ethical theories are useful in understanding ethical assumptions and ethical dilemmas in research evaluation and are pertinent in future design and development of research evaluation processes and criteria.

Ethical theories that can construct ethical principles for research evaluation, including deontological and consequentialist ethics, taking into account the Mertonian normative theory, have been examined.

In order to address the issues of research evaluation, we propose a mixed approach that combines the deontological and the consequentialist concepts that is able to infringe the boundaries of the rivaling theories and provide basis needed for research evaluation ethics.


Research evaluationEthical theoriesEthics of Research EvaluationPeer reviewEvaluative metricsBibliometrics
  • Year: 2020
  • Volume: 2 Issue: 1
  • Page/Article: 11
  • DOI: 10.29024/sar.19
  • Submitted on 25 May 2020
  • Accepted on 8 Sep 2020
  • Published on 25 Sep 2020
  • Peer Reviewed