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What is an unethical study?

2010 June 29
by unethical-admin

The impetus behind the scientific method is to answer questions. Why is the sky blue? Do objects of different mass fall at different rates? Will ordinary human beings inflict punishment upon other humans – up to and including lethal force – as long as they are told they are not responsible?

Many of these questions can and already have been answered through carefully designed and ethically executed studies.

This Institute is not concerned with those studies.

Some questions may only be answered through studies which could be considered unethical. Other questions may be answered through studies which could be considered ethical, but another, potentially unethical study could also attempt the same.

This Institute exists to catalog, examine, and discuss studies which could potentially violate one or more of widely-accepted ethical principles of conduct or research.

What is ethical?
There is no universally-accepted arbiter of ethical or unethical behavior.

That said, there are several guidelines for defining what would constitute an ethical or unethical study.

The American Psychological Association (APA) lists five General Principles, which I have paraphrased below:

  1. Beneficence and Nonmaleficence
    Essentially, “do no harm” – to those under their care as well as those affected by their work.
  2. Fidelity and Responsibility
    Establish and uphold relationships of professional and scientific trust, individually as well as for colleagues.
  3. Integrity
    “…promote accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in the science, teaching, and practice of psychology.” Psychologists should fully and seriously consider the necessity and consequences of situations where deception may be necessary.
  4. Justice
    “Psychologists exercise reasonable judgment and take precautions to ensure that their potential biases, the boundaries of their competence, and the limitations of their expertise do not lead to or condone unjust practices.”
  5. Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity
    Protect the rights (especially of privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination), dignity and welfare of all people, especially those whose abilities of self-determination are impaired.  Attempt to eliminate the effect of personal biases, and refrain from participating or condoning acts of others based upon prejudices.

Other resources include:

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