EDUS 660 #4: “You Don’t Know Until You Look”

This week’s Food for Thought:

Ethical Issues in Social Research should be the focus of our thought.
Ethical Issues in Social Research should be the focus of our thought.

After playing several characters in the Lab and Clinic, and reviewing the Milgram and Stanford Prison videos, describe and compare your reaction to the decisions you made as different characters and explain how you intend to avoid research misconduct.

Growing up outside of New York City, virtually nothing on television was censored during the 1970’s. Over several afternoons, Leon Uris’ novel QBVII was aired on television.  As a twelve-year-old, I sat mesmerized as the libel trial of Adam Kelno unfolded in the Queen’s Bench, courtroom seven. I had no context with which to place the events detailing medical experiments conducted on those in concentrations camps during World War II.  History for me typically recycled the main events from Columbus to the Civil War, with rarely any reference to harm, risk or justice for individuals who lived through such atrocities. While young, I knew that what I was watching was unethical, even if I didn’t have the correct vernacular with which to describe what I saw.

The Nuremberg Trials, as discussed by Babbie when introducing the concept of  “No Harm to the Participants,” was referenced several times in last week’s  CITI training. Understanding the historical basis for the Belmont Report, helps me to better understand the basis for creating standard protocols for conducting research with humans.  Part of being a member of a society, he contends “…is knowing what that society considers ethical and unethical” (Babbie, 2015:62).Understanding what the social research community considers ethical means that each member who participates in research must adhere to the principles of the social research community.

So how should one act in a social research setting when acting as our best selves? In “The Lab” simulation, I decided to play the Research Integrity Officer, Dr. Beth Ridgely and the graduate student, Kim Park.  I found that the full version of the movie, along with the lab guide to be useful tools to better understand both the role and the responsibilities of my two characters.  The background of Kim Park helped to provide a clearer understanding of the relationship between the RIO and the student researcher. Working through the “Ethical Decision-Making Model” helped me to make sure that I didn’t skip from one step over another step.  Bypassing a step, such as “I ask” to “I act”  may mean that I miss “Moral Action.”  In the simulation “The Research Clinic,” I chose to play two different characters from the first simulation, Dr. Richard Sowers, the Principle Investigator and Jan Klein, RN the Clinical Research Coordinator.

The model from the guide doesn’t copy and paste well, however, the ideas are important to understand.

Ethical Decision-Making Model

Moral AwarenessI feel

The Lab-Kim felt that something wrong was going on when reading a study that named her as co-author. Her gut was answering the question, “Is there something wrong here?”The social group in her lab gave her cause to be concerned.  After all, Greg was the “Rock Star” of the Lab.

The Clinic-I feel overwhelmed by the number of research programs that I am expected to coordinate as Jan, the CRC.  I feel both frustration and empathy when trying to explain the research proposal to the cancer patient and her son. I chose to be morally aware when deciding that my character would take the time necessary to work through the informed consent process.  It is important to ask the participant to use her own words to explain her role in the trials.  In doing so, the act of beneficence was evident.The participant was not harmed and was able to articulate how she might benefit from it.

I askMoral Judgment

The Lab-Beth raised several important questions when wondering if she would violate her judgment if she did not investigate the allegation brought forth by the complainant. Asking what would happen to the university if the Research Investigating Officer did nothing is an extremely important question to ask. How does one complete between competing loyalties? Deviation found during an audit could show evidence of research misconduct.  She was in charge of a lab at one time.  She remembers the importance of protocol.

The Clinic-Distinguishing right from wrong transitions to distinguishing better from worse. The PI needs to have enough participants to do the study.  He feels that his patients need the medication, however, the IRB has not given approval.  I forced my character to challenge the PI. I know that the PI has a relationship with the sponsor.  However, the protocol is very specific. My character, Jan, finally makes the right choice by contacting her supervisor.

Moral Intention-I think I will

It takes courage to act in the face of opposition.  In both The Clinic and The Lab, I selected the wrong choice for Beth, the RIO and Jan the CRC.  I am so conditioned to going to my supervisor or administrator first, that I failed to consider what would happen to the integrity of the project.  The presence of three individuals who followed behind a supervisor really impressed upon me the idea that the integrity of the research could be tampered with if the PI is given ample opportunity to cover his tracks.  The legal action that could have ensued in The Lab is a very real scenario.

Benefience:How in the world could the PI think that this research would benefit the participants?
Beneficence: How in the world could the PI think that this research would benefit the participants?

I actMoral Action

Sometimes people who recognize an ethical dilemma know what the right thing is to do, consider acting, but do not do so.  The power of other people can present either the motivation to take moral action or not. When considering the Stanford Prison Study, the Principle Investigator, Philip Zimbardo, could not see what was happening to the participants in his study until his girlfriend expresses shock over the treatment that she sees in the experiment.

The informed consent, which was crucial to The Clinic study simulation appeared to be lacking in both the Stanford Prison Study, 1971,  and the Milgram Experiment, 1963. When an individual who is conducting research is able to watch as harm is being inflicted upon a participant, he most certainly appears to be lacking moral action. Zimbardo and other participants who discuss this project in the video clip recognized that the student prisoners were beginning to suffer psychological distress. When considering the frequency of pain to be administered for a poor memory, this participant in The Milgram Experiment asks several times to stop.

The key principles of  The Belmont Report focus on respect for persons, beneficence and justice. The modules of theCITI training really instilled in me an appreciation for living, working and studying after the creation of this report.  While I am not so naive as to believe that instance of ethical misconduct was the norm prior to the Belmont Report, I also know that misconduct can and still does occur after the publication of the report. Understanding the role that following protocol plays in any research study after 1971, gives me greater confidence when considering my role in any past or future research projects.

Something to chew on-

Ethics: The most important piece of the research puzzle.
Ethics: The most important piece of the research puzzle.
  • Ideally, participants should benefit from any research study.Who will benefit from the study that your small group will conduct?
  • In what way will the benefits of your research be shared fairly with your participants?

Reference-

Babbie, E. (2015). The practice of social research. Cengage Learning.

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4 thoughts on “EDUS 660 #4: “You Don’t Know Until You Look”

  1. Decisions, decisions: As mentioned in my blog, most of these scenarios appear to have clear-cut choices. However, intangible weight emotions and relationships are hard to measure (their impact on decision making).
    • Who will benefit from the study that your small group will conduct? Since our group will focus on the generational effects of domestic violence on teenagers, we hope it (our research project) will impact our group as well as the other individuals that read through our research findings. Lots to consider! SB

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    1. You’re right. There will be lots to consider in your research. It’s always interesting to discover what the “ah ha” moments are for those who are doing the research. It’s the little things that make one step back and consider how what they have learned impacts them in the future.
      In the project that my group is considering, I would imagine that most of the benefit will come for those who work with the preteen group of students. We are looking at the ways in which screentime may or may not influence a preteen’s social interactions.

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  2. Looks like you’ve delved into many of the issues that were presented in these interactive videos! I’d like to address one in particular. You mention that the RIO (Beth) considered the question of whether she should investigate the allegations of the complainant. Under the VCU policy (and I imagine under all others as well), the RIO does not have that option. The allegations of the complainant must be investigated within a certain time frame and in a very carefully defined manner. Here’s a link to the policy: http://www.assurance.vcu.edu/Policy%20Library/Misconduct%20in%20Research%20and%20Scholarly%20Activities.pdf. I don’t think Beth is going to be a RIO for long if she doesn’t investigate!

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    1. Thank you for sending this document along. It’s a useful reference to keep when I have questions or concerns in the near future. It’s comforting to know that these policies are in place. Reading through them, I can’t help but get the feeling that being called into question would be a little bit like going to court. Pretty scary, indeed.

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