Knowledge, attitudes and practice of ethics among plant agricultural researchers at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories, Kawanda-Uganda
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Background: Plant agricultural research plays an important role and contributes significantly to human health and livelihood. With the current advancements in technology, this research is not exempt from ethical issues and dilemmas yet its ethical regulation in Uganda currently receives limited attention, with no formal ethical frameworks or policies in place. The ethics knowledge, attitudes, and practice among plant researchers are currently unknown and this study sought to address this gap. General objective: To explore the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of ethics among plant agricultural researchers at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories, Kawanda. Methodology: This was a cross-sectional study that employed a mixed-methods approach (a self-administered survey questionnaire and Key Informant Interviews) for data collection. Data were analyzed using STATA software and thematic analysis using NVivo Version 12 software. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize the demographic factors of the study sample and the baseline measures of knowledge and the chi-square test for association among factors influencing knowledge and attitudes Results: A total of Seventy (70) plant agricultural researchers (38 males and 32 females), and 10 Key informants (8 males and 2 females) at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories-Kawanda (NARL-Kawanda) took part in the study. The majority (60%) of researchers had no formal ethics training background. The majority (90%) of researchers rightly defined ethics across a broad range of terms, however, they held different views and opinions regarding its application and practice in plant agricultural research. There was low awareness and articulation of the four basic ethical principles among the researchers, but, there was the indirect application of some principles (like obtaining informed consent) by researchers from some specific research fields. It was also noted that most researchers did not differentiate between ethical principles and personal values. Plant researchers were unaware of any existing ethical frameworks, guidelines, or codes of ethics in plant agricultural research but relied more on their moral intuitions and personal values as they conduct research. Most of the individual-level values were rated as very important by most of the respondents (Score =>90%) except for values of beneficence and dependence which received an average rating (score=<50-60%). Most of the researchers were aware of the existence of critical ethical issues and dilemmas in their research and agreed to the fact that ethics in plant agricultural research has not been given adequate attention. The majority of researchers had positive attitudes towards ethics assessment in research especially the establishment of research Ethics committees and incorporation of ethics in agricultural curricula. Utilitarianism and deontology principles formed the main foundation for ethical practice among researchers. Plant researchers mainly reported behavior of superiors/supervisors and individual personal values and beliefs as major factors influencing ethics practice, whereas the level of education, publication status, and gender were found to be significantly associated with certain aspects of researchers’ knowledge and attitudes towards ethics in plant agricultural research Conclusion: Plant agricultural researchers hold diverse opinions and attitudes towards ethics and its application in plant agricultural research. These are based on various personal values and beliefs. The study revealed inadequate knowledge, awareness, and understanding of ethical principles among the researchers. Plant researchers attached great importance and relied on various individual-level values and moderate practice of ethics was realized. Personal values and behavior of supervisors greatly influence ethical practice, whereas the education level, publication status, and gender were factors significantly associated with knowledge and attitudes towards ethics in plant agricultural research.