THE RELEVANCE OF ETHICS IN RESEARCH
In Alabama from the 1930s to 1970s, researchers recruited black men to participate in a study of syphilis – a terrible disease that can cause disability and death. The researchers told the men participating that they were getting medical treatment, even though they were not. In fact, when the study began syphilis was untreatable. The researchers instead wanted to study what syphilis does to the body over time. After World War II, when a treatment – penicillin – was available for syphilis, the researchers kept the men from receiving it because they wanted to study what happened as the disease got worse. What makes this study, the Tuskegee syphilis study, unethical? What is wrong with the way the researchers acted?
More recently, in 2012, Facebook performed a research where they study large-scale emotional contagion through an examination of status updates of Facebook users. The results of this study showed that peoples’ emotions were reinforced by what they saw on the status updates of their family and friend the so-called “emotional contagion” effect. After a user makes a status update with emotional content, their friends are significantly more likely to make a similar post. When this study, The spread of emotion via facebook, was published it received a lot of criticism by other researchers since there was no informed consent used and by doing so an important ethical obligation was not met.
A human exercise experiment or class survey designed by a student for a science fair or course seems very different from the Tuskegee syphilis study. However, is there anything about student studies that might raise ethical concerns? Human subjects research is exactly what it sounds like. It is research that uses people as the subjects of experiments or studies. It can include giving people new drugs, doing tests on their blood, even having them take surveys. Researchers have a duty to treat the people they study ethically and respectfully. In particular, it is important to make sure that researchers do not exploit their subjects.
As a publicly-funded organisation, TU Delft considers integrity and the ethical aspects of the professional behaviour of all its staff and students to be extremely important. TU Delft assumes that all staff involved in research and education will take personal responsibility in matters concerning academic and scientific integrity within the organisation. TU Delft also has its own Scientific and Academic Integrity Complaints Regulations, which include a complaints procedure for situations involving breaches of scientific or academic integrity that may occur within the organisation. Moreover, to warrant the ethical validity of the research conducted at the TU Delft, all research that is expected to pose more than a minimal risk to its participants are screened by our Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC). Minimal risk is typically defined by the standard, every-day risks we face in our daily live.