19 Respect for private interests

Researchers must respect the legitimate reasons that private companies, interest organisations etc. may have for not wanting information about themselves, their members or their plans to be published.

It may be of great interest to the general public to learn about how private companies and interest organisations operate in society. Companies and organisations are under no legal obligation to provide information except where specific statutory provisions apply to certain types of information. Such institutions should nonetheless make their archives available for research. If they deny access, this must be respected.

Researchers who choose to undertake research on organisations that are opposed to the research are subject to particular requirements regarding meticulous documentation and use of methods. Situations may arise where researchers have reason to suspect abuse or serious violations of the law. It may still be ethically acceptable to continue the research providing that the abuse cannot be exposed or documented in any other way.

20 Respect for public administration

Public bodies should make themselves available for research into their activities.

People have a legitimate interest in how social institutions function. This implies that researchers must have the greatest possible access to public administration and bodies.

It should be possible to research public archives. Access may be restricted, with reference to privacy, overriding national interests, or national security. Classified material should be declassified as soon as it is prudent to do so.

21 Respect for vulnerable groups

Researchers have a special responsibility to respect the interests of vulnerable groups throughout the entire research process.

Vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals and groups are not always equipped to defend their interests when dealing with researchers. Accordingly, researchers cannot take for granted that ordinary procedures for eliciting information and consent will ensure individuals' self-determination or protect them from unreasonable strain.

Individuals who belong to disadvantaged groups may not want to be the subjects of research for fear of being viewed by the general public in an unfavourable light. In such cases, researchers must place particular emphasis on the requirements regarding information and consent. On the other hand, society has a legitimate interest for example in surveying living conditions, measuring the effectiveness of social welfare schemes, or charting the paths in and out of destructive and anti-social behaviour. Protecting a vulnerable group is occasionally counter-productive. In reality, such efforts may serve to protect society at large from gaining insight into processes that lead to discrimination and rejection.

Researchers who collect information about the characteristics and behaviour of individuals and groups should be cautious about using classifications or designations that give rise to unreasonable generalisation, and which in practice result in the stigmatisation of particular social groups.

22 Preservation of cultural monuments and remains

Researchers must respect the need to preserve all types of cultural monuments and remains.

The need for preservation of sites, monuments, artefacts, texts, archives, remains and information about the past is based on the interest of present and future generations in learning about their own history and culture and that of others.[28] When researchers handle human remains from archaeological excavations, they should be especially aware of the ethical problems associated with research on this type of material. Human remains dating back to before the Reformation (1537) and Sami remains that are more than 100 years old are automatically protected under the Cultural Heritage Act. With a few exceptions, other remains from the post-Reformation period do not receive this protection. Remains from post-1537 may also be of great interest to research. Consequently, more recent remains from archaeological excavations should also be protected to provide source material for future generations.[29]

Perspectives and research interests vary from one generation to the next. This means that also information about our own times should be preserved, so that it is possible for future generations to conduct research on it. Research that destroys source material raises special ethical considerations. The utility value must be balanced against how much the research destroys or changes the material. We must conduct research in a way that allows future generations of researchers to learn what they consider to be important.

Researchers and research institutions must not be involved in looting, theft or dubious trade in protected artefacts. Respect for the provenance of the research material requires particular attention.[30] Researchers, museums and research institutions must show due care and not acquire (for themselves or others) protected objects and cultural history source material that have not been procured in a transparent, honest and verifiable manner for research purposes. Research on material whose provenance is disputed should be avoided. When conducting research on such material, research institutions and professionals have a particular responsibility for transparency regarding provenance.

23 Research on other cultures

A particular requirement of research on other cultures is that there ought to be dialogue with representatives of the culture being studied.

When conducting research on other cultures, it is important to have knowledge of local traditions, traditional knowledge and social matters. As far as possible, researchers should enter into a dialogue with the local inhabitants, representatives of the culture in question and the local authorities. An interest in local co-determination or control may come into conflict with the research requirements regarding quality and impartiality. This places great demands on the initiation, planning and execution of research projects. When conducting research on other cultures, either in other countries or in minority cultures, researchers should avoid using classifications or designations that allow unreasonable generalisation.

Similar considerations also apply to historical research where time has passed since the events in question. Researchers should avoid devaluating people from past cultures and historical periods. Here, as under other circumstances, researchers in the humanities and social sciences must make a clear distinction between documentation and evaluation.

24 Limits on cultural recognition

Researchers must strike a balance between recognising cultural differences and recognising other fundamental values and general human rights.

Respect for and loyalty to the cultures in which the research is being conducted do not mean that aspects such as discrimination and culturally motivated abuse must be accepted. When undertaking a normative analysis of such situations, the researcher must make a clear distinction between a description of norms and practices in the culture being studied and the normative discussions of these factors related to specific values.

The researcher must be especially cautious when researching phenomena like culturally motivated violation of life and health or breaches of other human rights.


[28] International Council of Museums, Code of Ethics for Museums, ICOM (2004) 2013.

[29] The National Committee for Research Ethics on Human Remains, Ethical Guidelines for Research on Human Remains, Oslo 2013.

[30] Section 23a of the Cultural Heritage Act.