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Ethics in Experimental Research
Showing concern for the welfare of human subjects
- Tuskegee syphilis study of 1932
- Stanley Milgram’s conformity research of 1963
- commercially funded, “for profit” research (2001): conflicts of interest and the “file drawer” problem
- Pharmaceutical manufacturers “outsourcing” drug trials to poor countries with lax standards (2004)
- U.S. energy Dept. and radiation tests on civilians (1970’s)
- LSD and the CIA’s MK Ultra program (1973)
- More than 100 boys living in an orphanage were fed Quaker Oats with radioactive iron and calcium in the 1950's.
- The diet was part of an experiment to prove that the nutrients in Quaker oatmeal travel throughout the body.
- A class action settlement for $1.85 million was reached in 1998
The atomic veterans
- During and after WWII, American soldiers were forced to observe nuclear blasts within 50 miles of ground zero.
- Thousands of these soldiers later died of leukemia and other rare forms of cancer.
- Their families were barred from suing the federal government
Wendell Johnson’s diagnosogenic theory of stuttering
- “The Monster Study”
- In 1938, Wendell Johnson and Mary Tudor trained orphans to be more conscious of small speech errors.
- Johnson’s theory was that punishing fluency errors made them worse.
- All five stutterers in the test group showed increased stuttering; five out of six of the normal children exhibited worse fluency.
- The experiment, referred to by some as the “Monster Experiment” turned some of the children into lifelong stutterers despite later efforts to reverse the damage.
- 2005: South Korean researcher, Woo Suk Hwang, fabricated evidence that he had successfully cloned human embryos.
- The journal Science, retracted two studies he had published.
Outsourcing clinical trials
- The price of bringing a new drug to market is about $1 million per day
- Much of that cost is devoted to human clinical trials
- western drug makers are outsourcing safety and efficacy studies to developing countries, a large proportion of them to India and Russia.
- There are currently some 400 clinical trials underway in India
Ethical matrix for social science research
- Free-choice, no pressure to participate,
- consideration of “at risk” groups or individuals persons with diminished autonomy
- “do no harm,” ensure the well-being of participants
- fair distribution of risks and benefits of research
- subject recruitment, selection
- subject compensation
How common is research misconduct?
- “More than 1 percent of scientists report direct knowledge of an instance of misconduct.” Elliot (2000). How prevalent is fraud? That’s a multi-million dollar question. Science, 290, pp. 1662-1663
- Motivations include
- tenure and promotion
- pressure to “publish or perish”
- lucrative grants, patents
- fame, notoriety, prestige
Fraud in scientific research
- Intentional fraud
- Cyril Burt’s research on monozygotic twins—fudging the results of IQ tests
- William Summerlin’s cancer research—faked results of tumor shrinkage
- Unintentional fraud
- Weitzman’s research on women's and men's incomes following divorce—blamed “computer error” for erroneous results
- Pons and Fleischmann's research on “cold” fusion—couldn’t be replicated by other researchers
No harm to the participants
- minimizing psychological risks
- Example: simulations that accentuate racist, sexist, or homophobic attitudes
- minimizing physical risks
- Example: behavioral psychologists’ penchant for shocking subjects in the 60’s and 70’s
- showing concern for the welfare of participants
- Example: Stanley Milgram’s conformity research
Voluntary informed consent
- Before conducting any research using human participants, a participant’s voluntary informed consent must first be obtained:
- Voluntary: the subject willingly agrees to participate in the study, and is free to withdraw at any time without penalty
- Informed: the subject is aware of any risks (physical or psychological) associated with participating
- Consent: the subject’s consent is unambiguous, e.g., a signed permission form (no such things as “implied consent”)
Exceptions to the consent requirement
Low-risk anonymous surve
Observations gathered in public places
Information in the public domain
Failure to obtain informed consent
- Kinch’s study on the “Pygmalion effect”
- Problems associated with using freshman in experimental research
- Can students under 18 legally give their consent?
- Should participation in experiments be a course requirement?
- Ethics of participant-observation
- Going “under cover” to study groups may violate their rate to privacy
Deception and the use of cover stories
- Elms (1982) recommends the following strictures for the use of deception in experimental research:
- As a last resort: When there is no other feasible way to obtain the desired information
- example: studies on student cheating
- When the benefits substantially outweigh the risks
- example: controlled double-blind studies on drug efficacy
- When subjects are given the option to withdraw at any time, without penalty
- When any physical or psychological harm is temporary
- When subjects are debriefed and the research procedures are made available for public review
- Humphrey’s (1970) “tea room” trade research
- Personnel action—failure to ensure anonymity
- Incest case—failure to remove identifying information
- Anonymity: no one including the experimenter can match the data to specific individuals
- Confidentiality: the experimenter knows participants’ identities but takes steps to protect participant’s privacy.
Standards governing social science research
- at the department level
- Human Subjects Committees
- at the university level:
- Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)
- professional associations
- American Psychological Association’s “Ethical Guidelines”
- Code of Ethics” of the American Speech Hearing and Language Association
- undoing the cover story and revealing the true purpose of the investigation
- addressing any lingering psychological or emotional concerns associated with participating in the investigation
- Explaining the benefits of participation to subjects
- Thanking subjects and providing for future contact if necessary
Treating participants with respect and dignity
- the “subjects” versus “participants” controversy
- avoiding “isms” in research; sexism, racism, ethnocentrism, ageism, etc.
- ethics of withholding treatment from control groups