Ethics: The Vail of Academia.

As most of you know, those who read my humble weblog regularly, I study Criminology in Western Canada. I am doing my four year degree at Kwantlen University College located in the Fraser Valley, which is a stones throw from Vancouver if do not know where it is located. Because criminology is a liberal art/social science, (this term can be debatable,) research is the cornerstone of how we understand the world around us. As a discipline, everything studied is based on some form of research, so naturally, students must be knowledgeable about all aspects of research–and we are trained for it too.

We look at research at various levels, particularly if the research is accurate, or can it be replicated to verify the claim being made. We also check for its content–was it ethical? Regrettably, research done from the very first research project all the way up to the end of the 1970s was wide open to very loose ethical consideration. Mainly, science was seen as significantly more important to mankind than the subject’s well being who participated in these experiments. Perhaps the darkest chapter of unethical experimentation took place during Nazi Germany on their prisoners in the concentration camps where prisoners were subjected to cruel experiments of the most grotesque kind–mostly ending in death for each subject. However, since that period, research continued onward, although not as brutal as the Nazis, some experiments were as equally challenging to what is ethical vrs unethical in the treatment of the subjects who participated.

Perhaps the most quoted research experiments today are the Milgram experiment and the Stanford prison experiment. Each of these two research experiments looked at human behaviour and took it to the extreme, proving incredible results, but the cost has being argued as “too high” in terms of the subjects’ who participated in them. Stanly Milgram in 1961 at Yale University was interested in human obedience to authority, and Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University in 1971 studied “human responses to captivity and its behavioral effects on both authorities and inmates in prison.” In each case, the subjects were put into situations of unrepresented psychological conditions that resulted in many of the participants, who were unknowingly aware of what was really being studied, were stressed to the point of having some form of negative psychological effects afterwords.


Today such experiments would never pass the Board of Ethics that most institutions have now. In the above research experiments, law suites by participants’ and out-cry raised many academic institutions to create Boards of Ethics to protect themselves and those who participate from any wrong doing or liability done by the researchers sprang up. Getting approval to do research on human participants now has become just as much of an art as creating the experiment itself. These are positive steps; however, it does pose difficulties in the area that I want to do research in–mainly criminal behaviour.

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