Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment
Stanford Prison Experiment
Another example of unethical research is Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment, a psychology study conducted in 1971. College students were recruited as study volunteers to play roles, either prisoners or guards. Those who were guards were instructed to give the prisoners a sense of powerlessness. The goal of the guards was to treat the prisoners in ways that made them feel and understand that the guards had total control over them. Guards developed a number of techniques intended to bore, humiliate, and frighten the prisoners. The study was designed to last for two weeks but was halted after six days because of concerns that the experiment had gotten out of control.
The Tuskegee study and the Stanford Prison Experiment are held up as instances where researchers did not treat subjects with respect, concern, and consideration for their safety and well-being.
Informed Consent in Sociology Research
In response to these kinds of controversies, numerous national and international research regulations were put in place in order to prevent potentially abusive studies. Researchers are expected to consider ethical issues throughout the entire research process. They must ensure they do not harm their subjects, including physical, social, or psychological harm. The right to privacy is also an ethical consideration researchers must contemplate. In the United States, there is an understood right to privacy. However, many aspects of people's lives are public record, such as court documents, arrest records, and posts on social media. The issue for researchers is whether there is a right to access these records without consent (agreement).
Receiving consent is a major ethical consideration. Typically, researchers will have their subjects sign an informed consent form or they will indicate that study subjects will remain anonymous. Generally, it is necessary to obtain the consent of people involved in research. Not only should researchers get consent, but they should inform prospective subjects that participation is voluntary. Informed consent—consent obtained after a study subject is given clear information—is important because it gives the subject the opportunity to decline or participate. But in some types of observational research, when the researcher may not want the subject to know they are being observed or the true intent of the research, issues of consent and voluntary participation are complex. In research where a subject cannot know they are being studied, researchers may engage in deception. This type of research is often controversial and must get approval from a review board prior to being conducted. Some groups are given particular consideration and protection, meaning they cannot be used in studies involving deception. These groups include children, pregnant women, those with disabilities, prisoners, and people with mental illness.
In academic settings, researchers are usually required to gain approval from an institutional review board (IRB), a committee that reviews research proposals to determine if they adhere to ethical guidelines. The IRB works to identify prospective ethical problems. If problems are identified, researchers make adjustments to their proposals to obtain clearance from the IRB to conduct the study.
|Federal Requirements for Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)|
|Universities and other research institutions have IRBs that review research proposals for projects involving human participants. The federal government has several requirements for the composition of IRBs that review projects requesting federal funds.