Ethics in science?
The question scientists should always ask themselves before carrying out an experiment is, I can do it, but should I do it?
This question becomes more important as our technical scientific capabilities enable us, as a society, to push back the boundaries of the possible. An experiment can be scientifically robust but could still be considered ‘bad science’ if it fails to adhere to what society considers to be moral or ethical standards. In fact, there are many regulatory bodies and internal committees in the scientific world that are entirely concerned with making judgements about whether science meets suitable ethical standards or not.
Nowadays, we are used to expecting treatments for illnesses to have undergone significant testing in a scientific manner and expect that there should be evidence that something is effective before it is used as a widespread treatment. However, this was not always the case. Centuries ago treatments were often used without any study of their efficacy or with any consideration as to whether they were ethically appropriate – or not.
This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course S111.