Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Research Ethics Scandals and a New-Old Example

I was talking about research ethics with my doctoral research seminar, and I learned something new... or old that I had not known.  Research ethics refers to the process of getting approval to do research that involves human subjects (or radioactive stuff or animals).  In my work, I have needed to get approval when my work has involved interviews, as interviewing and its products (dangerous quotes) can harm someone's career.  Or worse if one is doing research in a more dangerous place and on my dangerous topics than I have been conducting.

The usual example I draw upon are the famous Milgram experiments where psych profs had students being ordered to shock another subject.  The shocking was faked but the stress on those who kept ordering the shocking was not.  The other example is the Stanford prison experiment, where students played the roles of prisoners and prison guards, and the researchers found out that brutality would develop pretty quickly.  These and other cases taught the academic world that researchers needed a check on their behavior as they might engage in unethical research. 

Well, when discussing this today, I was told of another bit of research that was much less aimed at social science but instead very much a CIA endeavor.  The CIA funded research at a number of places including McGill University to develop mind control techniques--Project MK Ultra.  I never heard of this in my ten years of McGill, perhaps because it took place in the mid 1960s. 

The interesting thing is that it appears to be the case that the research ethics process at Carleton is far more challenging than the one at McGill.  I did not have much of a problem getting my research cleared at McGill, but it sounds like students and profs at my new institution have to do far more explaining, even when the risks are not really about harming subjects but about the scholar being in harm's way in a dangerous place.  Hmmmm.

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