Tag Archives: #bcm210

It Is Absolutely Essential That You Continue

Seventy years on, the Nazi regime remains a chilling memory, even to those born decades after the fact. The atrocities committed in this time could not have been achieved without a large mass of people power behind them. This raises the question of how so many individuals were able to overcome fundamental moral principles. Were they all depraved and inhuman? How could ordinary people carry out such brutality? These are questions that social psychologist Stanley Milgram set out to answer in one of the most ethically controversial experiments ever devised.

When presented with a hypothetical moral dilemma, we can often say “This is the right thing to do. I would do the right thing.” But people are complicated. Situations are complicated. Research experiments can give us an insight into how people really do act in these complex situations. But should it? Before an experiment can begin, the participants must sign an Informed Consent Form which outlines exactly what will happen in throughout the experiment. Anything that isn’t outlined in this form is known as deception, which can be permissible in certain situations. If the value of the experiment is dependent on the participant’s lack of knowledge, the deception doesn’t cause any physical or emotional distress, and the participant is informed of this deception at the earliest possible time, it can be ethically acceptable.

There are three main arguments against the ethical procedures in Milgram’s experiment:

  1. The use of deception – Milgram justified with its necessity for accurate results.
  2. Harm caused to the participants – Milgram argued that this was only short-term stress caused during the experiment. He had also not anticipated this high level of stress. Once this effect became apparent to him, he investigated for potential harm. After the experiment, each participant received a questionnaire regarding their participation. These were the results:Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 5.35.42 amOne year after the experiment, 40 participants were psychiatrically examined, and none were found to have sustained any harm.
  3. Right to withdraw – Some argue that participants were not given the opportunity to withdraw from the experiment, as they were prompted on multiple occasions to continue. Milgram argues that the nature of the obedience study required this prompting, and that despite the prompting, it was still possible to withdraw (as 35% of participants did).

Ultimately the concept of ethics is about right and wrong, which is subjective. Thankfully there are many organisations around the world that govern ethics in research, in order to maintain research conducted responsibly and with integrity. Milgram’s study, while justifiable, does raise important questions about ethical research practices. In the past, many morally questionable studies have been completed. While the data from these experiments can sometimes reveal fascinating information, this comes at a cost. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?


Hide Yo’ Kids, Hide Yo’ Wife

Science communication is important. It allows people to learn what’s going on within the scientific community, and (when done correctly) is a great tool for getting people excited about work that’s being done. SciShow is a YouTube channel which focusses on keeping people up to date with news and concepts of important or interesting scientific stories.

This video, titled ‘The Science of Anti-Vaccination’ goes into detail regarding the psychological and scientific reasoning behind the decisions some parents are making to not have their children vaccinated. It is intended as an educational commentary answering why this decline in immunisation rates is occurring.

The authors of this text are a group of scientific communicators and researchers. The host of the show, Hank Green, has a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a master’s in environmental studies, and has been a prominent YouTube personality since 2007. Throughout the video, he uses the personal pronouns ‘we’ and ‘us’ to refer to the authors of the text, members of the scientific community, and tScreen Shot 2015-04-18 at 10.06.13 pmhe audience. This not only creates a greater sense of the authors’ presence in the text (to a greater extent than the author’s literal presence in the text), but it also helps align the audience’s views with the views they are presenting.

Speaking of audience (see how smooth that was?), this video is on YouTube, so it’s open to a huge variety of people. The fast-paced nature of the video, along with the intended audience for their other posts, and the platform that it’s posted to tends towards young adults and teenagers who have a general interest in science, or the vaccination debate. One strength that the text has, is that it communicates the complexity of the science on different levels (like in Shakespeare, Monty Python, or Harry Potter), so it can be appreciated by both science noobs and PhD candidates.

Rather than simply criticising the people that make the choice not to vaccinate their kids, the authors try to objectively discuss the logic (albeit wrong) behind these people’s choice. “We at SciShow aren’t about judgement, we’re about science and using it to better understand the world.” The authors clearly state where they stand in the ‘debate’ throughout the video, but remain objective despite this. Instead of ridiculing the people who they disagree with, they use examples of common human biases, to show the normality of these peoples’ mistakes, and to create the chance for their audience to empathise with them.

As the episode is a video summarising the scientific and psychological phenomenon surrounding the issue, it relies solely on the previous research of others. While they don’t directly reference their sources during the video, they draw attention to where they got their information, and link the locations at the end. I don’t believe this is because they cherry-pick the data that supports them (as there are more than a dozen peer-reviewed articles that support their views, and no evidence against them), I simply think this is done to keep the flow of the text, given that it’s a video.

This text is a very valuable, effective and reliable example of scientific communication. It promotes not only an understanding of the scientific concepts involved, but by giving a detailed analysis of the opposing view, encourages a fair and meaningful discussion among its audience.