Updated: Oct 23, 2019
Knowledge question: To what extent do scientists have ethical responsibilities in their experiments?
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4050437/ This study indicates that reasoning is in fact affected by emotion.
YAS: On a broad view, a qualified rational scientist follows the traditional approaches of inductivism (meaning a stepwise controlled experiment) with the use of reasoning, conjecture and refutations as well as peer review assessments from other qualified scientists in that field to avoid false conclusions. Now, whatever the observation may be with its acquired chosen hypothesis and experimental procedure, a scientist is also expected to follow this on a ethical highway. Why I call it a highway is because what most people think is ethical varies to a certain extent depending on each person's social settings such as culture and religion causing different beliefs in what is right and wrong, making it difficult to generalize. However, there are the general ethics we most agree on which we put under common sense because of ethics being so ubiquitous.
The knowledge question we have is: To what extent do scientists have ethical responsibilities in their experiments?
YAS: To being with, what is ethics?
Certain common rules that help us distinguish what is ethical and what is not is the Golden rule of which most of us hear of from a very young age saying “Do unto others as you would have of them do unto you” and as Albert Schweitzer puts it “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings”. Other examples would be Hippocratic oath, a conduct expressing “First of all, do not harm” or the ten commandments in religion “Thou shalt not kill…”
“You don't teach morals and ethics and empathy and kindness in the schools. You teach that at home, and children learn by example.” - Judy Sheindlin
Societies legal rules also control what procedures are legal to perform. Even though one might think most societies set the laws to follow accepted moral standards, laws should not be mixed with ethics. Because certain action could be legal, but unethical or illegal but ethical. Why ethics should not be mixed with law is because laws set minimum standards of behaviour, whilst ethics put maximum standards. Laws just tell us what we are prohibited to do and what we are required to do, but ethics goes deeper than.
Our main real life situation is Hwang Woo-Suk, who is a South Korean veterinarian and researcher, very famous for his fabrication of a series of experiment in the field of stem cell research. In 2005 he was known as the “Pride of Korea” for his creation of human embryonic stem cells by cloning. However, a short while later he was caught committing ethical violation by using eggs from his graduate students and from the black market. He denied this at first, but later by 2006 he was charged with embezzlement of state and private funds as well as bioethic law violation and after that most of his research was also found to be fake. After 1 year and 6 months of prison, by 2014 he managed to receive a US patent, which helped him get back to his laboratory work again.
Getting to the real life situation, our second one is “United Kingdom Tainted Blood Scandal” in 1970, which is about the 3891 people with Haemophilia getting infected by Hepatitis C and 1242 of them co infected with HIV (known for leading to acquired immune deficiency syndrome AIDS) because they received contaminated clotting factor products from the National Health Service. These clotting factor products led to 2400 deaths and later on over 5000 Haemophilia infected people terminally ill. The government has tried to cover it up by calling it “Blood Transfusion” which is not the case. In fact, this particular product was a processed pharmaceutical product falling under the medicines act which involves dangerous manufacturing processes. Thus, a large group of paid donors were used, and it all requires one infected donor to contaminate the entire branch of production. However, this was the period of time in which donating blood for money in USA had been ceased and so UK imported a bach of Factor VIII used in the product to cure Haemophilia and they never paid for any of the destructions caused by their contaminated product. Many privately independent review sets in 2007 wrote about this scandal being “Horrific” but had no power in doing anything about it, making the survivors calling this a “White wash”. It took all the way to 2017, when 500 people finally managed to make a legal action taking this scandal to the high court.
As a base if we being with connecting what ways of knowing effects a scientific procedure/experiment, we have chosen three being , Intuition, Emotion and Reasoning. Intuition is gut feeling, knowing something without knowing where the knowledge comes from. It allows a person to make decisions quickly. It can be both a good and a bad thing. A problem is that intuition can be based on many different types of biases. The link between our main real life situation and intuition is this: Hwang Soo Suk have fabricated the results because his gut feeling told him to do that. In his case his intuition have been distorted by fame and being called “Pride of Korea”. His intuition have turned into a severe confirmation bias. The implications of his distorted intuition is that he committed unethical and illegal actions.
The link between the second real life situation and intuition is this: Intuition have been a part of why the scientists chose to use the clotting factor products despite it being contaminated. Their gut feeling have told them that to use it for saving people’s lives. Their intuition might have been that to manufacture clotting factor was the right thing to do. It felt right to do it, therefore they did it. On the other hand intuition conflicts with ethics. Ethical guidelines for scientists say that a scientist can not just go with her gut feeling. The scientists have suffered from one form of cognitive bias called confirmation bias. They refused to acknowledge that the blood clotting was in fact contaminated and went on to manufacture it. On the other hand cognitive biases are built into the structure of our minds and are hard to overcome. It isn’t strange why they manufactured the blood clotting product.The implications of the intuition in the second RLS is that it lead to unethical actions which in turn lead to people dying.
We can conclude from these two real life situations that intuition is related to ethics and it is a double-edged sword. It can help one make a decision quickly but also distort our conscious reasoning. Scientists have ethical responsibilities for their experiments but intuition can make it harder or easier to follow the ethical guidelines as our two RLS have shown.
How is emotion, another way of knowing, related to our main real life situation? Emotion is highly linked to ethics. By definition we have feeling about things that matter to us. That is a good quality of emotion. The downside with emotions is that they can overcloud rational thinking just like intuition. If ethical guidelines was not important to Hwang Soo Suk then that might be a major reason to why he fabricated results. On the other hand he has ethical responsibilities even if he isn’t emotional about it. Passion is a form of strong emotion. It can be both a good and a bad thing. In Suks case passion turned into something bad. He let his passion for stem cell research go too far. On the other hand it isn’t easy to know when your passion for something goes too far. Since we can’t control our emotions, can we really blame Suk for not following ethical guidelines? This real life situation suggests that scientists can’t be blamed for not following ethical guidelines. The implications of emotion on the RLS is that it lead to Suk buying eggs at the black market and fabricating results.
In the second real life situation, emotions have overclouded the scientist’s rational thinking in other ways. They were so passionate about manufacturing the blood clotting product that it was secondary to follow the ethical guidelines. The implication of emotion on the second RLS is that it lead to unethical decisions which in turn lead to thousand of people dying.
We can conclude from this that emotion is linked to ethics and intuition. There are both benefits and downsides with letting emotion being a way of knowing. Just like intuition emotion is a double-edged sword. Scientists have ethical responsibilities for their experiments but emotions can make it harder or easier to follow those responsibilities.
Reason is our third way of knowing. It is linked to both ethics, emotion and intuition. One benefit of logical reasoning is that it can enable us to make better decisions. One downside is that poor reasoning can lead to confirmation bias just like intuition. A study consisting of several experiments have shown that emotions affect reasoning.1 At first glance you might get the impression that Hwang Soo Kun was very emotional and therefore illogical. To some extent he was probably emotional from being called for example “Pride of Korea”. He wanted to keep getting called that. On the other hand he probably knew that buying egg at the black market is illegal. But he did it anyway. He probably thought it was logical to buy eggs at the black market in order to fabricate results so he could keep being famous. Poor reasoning lead to that decision and that is an implication of the RLS. He reasoned that going against ethical guidelines is worth the price.
To conclude reason can distort into confirmation bias. Reasoning is like intuition and emotions, a double-edged sword. It can be both a way of knowing but also an obstacle to acquiring knowledge. Scientists have ethical responsibilities for their experiments but reason can make it harder or easier to follow those ethical responsibilities.
Ethics vs natural sciences
So far we have discussed ethics in relation to three way of knowing, emotion, intuition and reason. Now we will discuss ethics in relation to another area of knowledge, the natural sciences. The natural sciences are physics, chemistry and biology and it’s the closest we will come to an objective truth. The relationship between ethics and natural sciences is a complex one but it exists as our two real life situations prove. The two real life situations come from the natural sciences. The natural sciences aren’t unethical on their own. It is the scientists who make natural science unethical or ethical through their decisions as our two RLS have shown.
YAS: Pushing forward to a theory known as “Consequentialism” which is about the view point on morality and if the whole point of morality is to spread happiness and relieve suffering, create world peace, stop extinction then you are a consequentialist. It is believed in this theory that consequences are all that matters and how one must do what you would think would bring happiness to you and other people, making it ethical. It is also believed that an action is write if it produces a better consequence than alternate actions However, consequentialism is also controversial, considering many believe in begin reasonable, respecting others, taking care of nature and respecting rights - no matter the consequences. Connecting Consequentialism to our real life situation, one must conclude that Hwang Woo Suk did not perform an ethical action at all and disrupted the harmony of happiness that consequentialism strives for. We to a certain degree agree with consequentialism, however we do not accept reaching perfection “no matter the cause” which some believe in. The pure meaning of this theory cares for each step and consequence leading to another wanting to minimize negativity as much as possible and so even the actions matter to reach a particular positive goal one sets.
Why does this matter? Well, any action performed, not only in scientific experiments should follow what is ethical in respect to other peoples rights because you yourself want your rights to be respected and no harm done to you. In order to reach one step closer to a more peaceful world, safer for ourselves as well as our loved ones we have to respect one another to spread love more than hatred, inequality and revolutions. Laws are set to force people follow certain rules, but ethics help us truly reach a peaceful, safe and loving environment because through ethical actions can we learn to love better and so also have a less negatively filled minds ourselves. To conclude, we believe that if a scientific experiment follows what is ethical, the results will be valid, the research participants are kept from harm and the rights and dignity of others are respected. Research and experiments are done to gain a better understanding of the world and thus create better conditions, invent new things such as medicine for a healthier population. The experiments are done for a better world for us humans, and so if we harm one another in anyway, what is the point of these experiments? If this conclusion is applied to the second RLS then the implications would be that people’s lives might have been saved.
Thank you for your attention.