Essay: (max. 2500 words, plus tables and figures) Students choose TWO extended case studies and will write an essay comparing and critically evaluating their ethical challenges and the strategies used to minimize or guard against harmful results. The essay must address the following issues:
- What ethical principles are at issue in each case? Provide and justify specific examples.
- What strategies were used to insure the standards of ethical research?
- Were those strategies successful? How and why?
- What alternate strategies might also have been used to achieve the same or better results?
- Which case study represents a better implementation of research ethics? How and why?
The two studies should have something in common: A similar topic, the method, the same ethical principles or conflict. They should also differ in the way that they addressed the ethical issues in question. Be sure to make both the similarities and differences clear to the reader. Your essay will consist of a careful, point-by-point contrast of the two cases. It should link the cases to commonly held standards of research ethics and discuss the extent to which those were followed. You should discuss the ethical, practical, and political consequences of these cases for the researchers, participants, and the social groups represented therein. And you should connect these cases to other examples of social research and implementation we have discussed.
Here is a list of the extended case studies for you to choose your two studies from. You should get the complete article for each study (go to library or use PsychInfo) so you will have detailed and complete information to address each of the five issues listed above.
NOTE: Milgram’s notorious Obedience to Authority experiments are hereby officially banned from this assignment because they have been used so extensively throughout this and many other discussions on this topic. Part of this assignment is to show understanding of the principles in this course well enough to apply them to new research studies.
The Tea-Room Trade (Humphreys 1975)
Humphreys took a participant-observer role as “watch queen” in order to study anonymous male homosexual activities in St. Louis’s Forest Park public restrooms. He followed the “Johns” to their cars and recorded their license numbers. Humphreys then posed as a market researcher to obtain their addresses from police registers.
About a year later, he disguised himself and gained entry to their homes by pretending to do a health survey – including questions about sexual activity. Participants were never informed of their participation in a study or given the opportunity to withdraw.
Tuskegee Syphilis Studies (various authors, 1930s – 1970s)
In 1932, the US Public Health Service began a longitudinal study that came to be called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” Black men in Macon County, Alabama were recruited by circulating word in the community that they could receive free tests for “bad blood” at the teaching hospital of the Tuskegee Institute.
616 men (412 diagnosed with syphilis and 204 disease-free controls) eventually participated. At the start of the study, syphilis was poorly understood and untreatable, but penicillin became widely available as an effective cure for the disease in 1943. Nevertheless, participants were not informed of their disease, not treated, and actively encouraged n o t to go elsewhere once viable treatments were known.
The medical community was aware of the study through numerous scholarly publications, but no one formally objected to the study until 1965. The PHS convened an ethical review panel in 1969 that found no ethical violations and recommended the study continue. It was not halted until 1972, when an Associated Press expose appeared, causing widespread public furor.
The Bell Curve (Herrnstein and Murray, 1994)
The authors argue that cognitive ability is largely inherited, and that there are meaningful differences in intelligence between culturally recognized racial and ethnic groups. They assert that cognitive ability is now the strongest force stratifying educational and occupational access and performance, as well as mating decisions.
In blunt terms, smarter people tend to get more and better education, get better jobs and more promotions, and marry other smarter people – thus transferring greater cognitive stratification into the next generation – and those smarter people tend to overwhelmingly be white or Asian. In their minds, this explains continuing racial differences in life chances, particularly between white and black Americans.
As a consequence they argue that social, educational, and other ameliorative programs cannot overcome these advantages and are effectively a waste of public funding and effort. Their findings are almost universally discredited by other researchers due to methodological flaws, and yet their book significantly contributed to the public perception that “race” is a real biological category and that those “races” are irrevocably unequal.
Regqrdless of one’s political views, is there anything inherently unethical about Herrnstein and Murray’s research?
‘Zimbardo Prison Experiment’ (Zimbardo 1972, 1973; Zimbardo, et. al. 1973, 1974)
Male students, testing psychologically “normal,” were divided randomly into “prisoners” and “guards.” Prisoners were given plain uniforms, numbers, and had all personal effects removed. Guards were given military-style uniforms, nightsticks, and mirrored sunglasses. Prisoners were incarcerated in cells and had to maintain their roles around the clock. Guards were given eight-hour shifts and told simply to maintain a “reasonable degree of order” without inflicting physical harm.
The prisoners soon began antagonizing the guards and the guards rapidly resorted to mental and physical abuse to maintain order among the prisoners. Though the experiment was scheduled for two weeks, conditions became so dangerous that it was called on the sixth day.
Middletown studies (Lynd and Lynd 1929, 1937; Vidich and Bensman 1968; Vidich 1999; and others)
Though the Lynds promised confidentiality and followed the standard convention of changing names and locations, it soon became common knowledge that “Middletown” was Muncie, IN. Once that was known, it was also easy to recognize individuals in what was then a community of only twenty thousand. Of course, many of those portrayals were unflattering and related private information, causing some participants to feel as if they had been betrayed.
Project Camelot (Horowitz 1965)
Study sponsored by the CIA, ostensibly to test W. I. Thomas’ idea of the “self-fulfilling prophecy”. A research team from several prestigious American universities was assembled that gained access to several remote South American villages, but failed to disclose their funding source or true purpose.
They were actually attempting to locate hotbeds of potential revolutionary activity in different villages by identifying groups of peasants who identified certain future political scenarios as very likely and desirable – thus identifying those willing to participate in potential government insurrections. An anthropologist accidentally spilled the beans over dinner with a university official in South America and the project was unmasked and forced to an early end.
Pygmalion in the Classroom (Rosenthal and Jacobson 1968)
In the mid-1960s the researchers approached administrators at a working class elementary school. They explained that they had developed a test (which they called the “Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition”) that would not only measure IQ, but also identify which students were about to experience rapid intellectual development.
The school agreed to have their students tested at the beginning of the academic year and the researchers, in turn, gave administrators and teachers two lists: one of students that would continue performing at their previous levels, and another of students they could expect to make remarkable progress in the coming academic year (no matter what their previous performance). In actuality, there was no such test and the researchers had randomly assigned the students to each condition. They further instructed the teachers n o t to treat their students differently, since this progress would occur naturally.
At the end of the academic year, the test was re-administered. Students in the control condition evidenced a mean 8-point IQ score gain, while those in the experimental condition averaged a more than 20-point increase.
Yanomami: The Fierce People (Chagnon 1968, & others) – critiqued in Darkness in El Dorado (Tierney 2002)
Beginning in 1964, a South American tribe called the Yanomamo became the subject of intense and prolonged research scrutiny. They were regarded as perhaps the last truly “primitive” people – and the most violent. Chagnon and Neel’s research was world famous and considered groundbreaking at the time, but has subsequently raised a host of ethical issues.
Among the charges (still being vigorously disputed) were that much of the evidence was staged, researchers interfered to incite war and other conflicts with the Yanomamo, and that (either through improper procedures or illconceived medical experiments) they introduced a number of often fatal diseases into the population.
This research also opened the door for the US government to use the Yanomamo as test subjects for Project Sunshine (to test the effects of radiation poisoning) and other medical and social experiments conducted by a variety of agencies, companies, and research teams that have subsequently decimated the tribe.
Effect of Blood on Reaction to a Victim (Piliavin and Piliavin, 1972)
In the Spring of 1964, Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered outside her apartment building in Queens, NYC while 38 onlookers did nothing. In the wake of that incident, Darley and Latane (1968) proposed their theory of “diffusion of responsibility” (or the “bystander effect”), which asserts that a crowd of onlookers are less likely to offer aid to a victim because they feel someone else will get involved.
Piliavin and Piliavin thought that there was another factor at work: the perception of risk due to involvement. To test their hypothesis, they conducted a field experiment in the New York subway system. A confederate, dressed as a blind man with dark glasses and a white cane, faked a fainting spell on a moving subway car between stops while researchers recorded bystander reactions.
They conducted the experiment 42 times under two conditions: one where the “victim” simply collapsed, and the other where they also appeared to bleed about the mouth. They repeatedly got into trouble with subway officials, ran the risk of a passenger pulling the emergency stop cord, and induced panic among some riders during several of the “blood” trials.
NIMH Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program (Elkin, et al. 1989)
Participants with diagnosed major depressive disorders were recruited from several outpatient facilities and placed in one of four experimental conditions lasting 16 weeks: drug therapy (with a medicine clinically demonstrated to mitigate depressive symptoms), interpersonal psychotherapy (weekly sessions concerning how to improve their relations with others), cognitive therapy (weekly sessions to help them understand and correct their negatively distorted self images), and a placebo (an inert pill that had no effects either way on depression).
180 patients completed the trial. Results found the most benefits from drug therapy, with interpersonal therapy a relatively close second, and smaller benefits for cognitive therapy – although neither psychotherapeutic program had significant effects on the most severe cases.
Studies of Independence and Conformity (Asch 1956)
Participants were told that they would participate in an experiment in visual judgment and were the last ones shown into a lab room in which a number of presumed participants were already seated (they were actually confederates). In each trial, the group was presented with a standard line and three comparison lines, and then asked to individually identify which matched by calling out their answers in turn.
On the first two trials, all went as expected, and everyone answered correctly. But beginning on the third trial, the confederates just as confidently and unanimously gave a clearly incorrect response. When it came to the real participant’s turn, he was faced with a dilemma: answer correctly or affirm the obviously wrong conclusion of the group.
75% of the participants went against their own judgments and publicly agreed with the group’s wrong answer on at least one occasion. The experiment caused confusion, self-doubt, or a desire to conform in most of the participants, but they were fully debriefed as to the study’s true nature at its conclusion.
The Mountain People (Turnbull 1974)
Study of a northern Ugandan tribe, the Ik, which in contrast to his previous research, Turnbull asserted were a “group of human beings totally lacking in any ethical code.” The Ik were traditionally nomadic hunters and gatherers, but the government had recently transformed their hunting grounds into a national park and forced them into a sedentary life as farmers in an arid mountain region.
Prolonged drought and famine made their predicament desperate. And to complicate things further, corrupt government officials regularly redirected food rations supplied by outside aid organizations. Turnbull remained an ostensibly detached and uninvolved observer, but imposed his own ethical code on his write-up, presenting what many consider a biased and insufficiently substantiated account (thought it won awards at the time).
The Robbers Cave Experiment (Sherif, et al. 1961)
In the summer of 1954, two sets of 11-year-old boys were bused from Oklahoma City to a camp in the San Bois Mountains. The boys had been pre-selected through an intensive, multi-method process as normal, well-adjusted, having similar educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, and no “unusual” personal histories. The parents knew about and consented to the experiment, but the boys only thought they were heading for a typical summer camp experience.
The boys were randomly selected into two groups, brought separately to the camp, and segregated from one another for the first week. They were involved in camp activities that built group cohesion, and each group chose a name (Eagles and Rattlers), began sporting their name on clothing and emblems, and developed their own group rituals.
By the end of the first week, the groups discovered one another, began berating the others, and asked to engage in competition. Those competitive activities had already been planned as part of the experiment. In the next week, they were pitted against one another in a series of contests for prizes, and what started as name calling escalated into open hostility: commando raids on the other group’s cabin, humiliating pranks, vandalism, and isolated fistfights.
The Eagles and Rattlers were facing off for armed combat with rocks, clubs, and knives, when that phase of the experiment was halted. Over the next two weeks, the researchers involved the two groups in a series of shared challenges that reversed their bitter enmity and the boys left the Robber’s Cave experiment with strongly developed cross-group bonds.
Murray Center experiments (Murray and others 1940s – 1960s) – accounted in Chase (2003, 2004)
Henry Murray was a social psychologist working for the OSS during World War II on psychological testing and brainwashing. After the war, he continued these experiments at Harvard. In the last of these experiments, begun in the late 1950s, Murray’s team convinced (some say coerced) about 80 Harvard Freshmen to commit to a three-year series of studies.
Participants spent about two hours a week in the lab and were also asked to produce hundreds of pages sharing the most intimate details of their lives. During the first year, they were subjected to an exhaustive battery of psychological tests. But in the second, they were asked to write a position paper justifying their life philosophy and told that they would then discuss their philosophy with another student – an aspiring lawyer.
The participants were ushered into a lab room with a one-way mirror, movie camera, and bright lights trained on their chair. They were affixed with electrodes monitoring biomedical data. And then, instead of a discussion with another undergraduate, they were immediately and relentlessly attacked by a well-trained law student with directions to reduce them to incoherence. This was repeated each week. In the third year, they were also made available for a wide range of additional (and often stressful) experiments.
Additional examples of social sciences research that have raised significant ethical issues can be found at the following addresses. Be sure to only choose social sciences research studies, not medical, etc.