[Sara R. Jordan and Phillip W. Gray. “Reporting Ethics Committee Approval in Public Administration Research.” Science and Engineering Ethics (April 2013): 1–21. Accessed May 6, 2013. doi:10.1007/s11948-013-9436-5.]
Jordan and Gray find that less than three percent of public administration articles "report having obtained ethical clearance by the relevant committee at their institution," compared to 33 percent that report outside funding.
They find this troubling for two reasons. The first is that they crave the respect of other disciplines.
If the reputation of an academic field rests on its appraisal by other scholars as conforming to the norms of good science, then evidence of insufficient attention to substance, methods, or ethics stand to damage the reputation of a field. Failing to report ethical clearances, consistently to report methods and participant numbers, and to report ethical considerations raises the possibility that researchers in public administration could be accused of questionable research practice.
The authors offer no examples of scholars from other field whose respect for public administration research has been diminished by the absence of ethics committee statements. Interdisciplinary respect and appreciation is a complex matter, involving everything from expectations of external funding to prose style. In the absence of evidence, I'm skeptical the absence or presence of committee approval plays an important part.
Second, Jordan and Gray note that "in the event that later researchers hope to replicate a study, information on the ethical considerations about the research could assist them to design their later study in ways that saves them time and hassle with their own ethics committees."
This strikes me as a stronger argument, but a brief line stating that a project was approved by an ethics committee would not be sufficient for a later researcher to design a follow-up study. Only if the researchers deposited their applications in a depository like TEAR would others have the information they needed. Thoughtful essays about research ethics in fora such as the Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics or Ethics CORE would also be more helpful than boilerplate statements.
A better strategy, then, might be for researchers and journals to include references to fuller statements of their ethics reasoning, rather than equate committee approval with ethical action. Mere statements of approval are neither necessary nor sufficient for the goals articulated by Jordan and Gray.