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Ethics in Experimental Research






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Ethics in Experimental Research. Showing concern for the welfare of human subjects. Horror Stories. 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
Ethics in Experimental Research

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Slide 1

Ethics in Experimental Research

Showing concern for the welfare of human subjects

Slide 2

Horror Stories

  • 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)

Slide 3

Radioactive oatmeal!

  • 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

Slide 4

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

Slide 5

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.

Slide 6

Cloning Fraud

  • 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.

Slide 7

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

Slide 8

Ethical matrix for social science research

Slide 9

Belmont report

  • Autonomy:

    • Free-choice, no pressure to participate,

    • consideration of “at risk” groups or individuals persons with diminished autonomy

  • Beneficence:

    • “do no harm,” ensure the well-being of participants

  • Justice:

    • fair distribution of risks and benefits of research

    • subject recruitment, selection

    • subject compensation

Slide 10

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

Slide 11

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

Slide 12

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

Slide 13

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”)

Slide 14

Exceptions to the consent requirement

Low-risk anonymous surve

Observations gathered in public places

Information in the public domain

Slide 15

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

Slide 16

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

Slide 17

Privacy concerns

  • Humphrey’s (1970) “tea room” trade research

  • Personnel action—failure to ensure anonymity

  • Incest case—failure to remove identifying information

Slide 18

Privacy concerns

  • 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.

Slide 19

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

Slide 20

Debriefing participants

  • Dehoaxing:

    • undoing the cover story and revealing the true purpose of the investigation

  • Desensitizing:

    • 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

Slide 21

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


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