Ethics and Milgram

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Well welcome back to the blogs. To kick start semester 2 blogs I am going to discuss a topic which we all know about and are possibly sick of hearing about. However, I thought it would be a good time to think about ethics and what is ethical, especially as we will all be thinking about ethics soon enough for our projects.

So as I said we are constantly reminded about ethics and ethical principles in research and how important it is to meet the criteria. However, ethics are a code of conduct, meaning they are only guidelines not law. So it can make it difficult to decide whether someone is truly being unethical.

There are many aspects to consider when deciding what is ethical. There are 5 key principles to consider when deciding if something is ethical or not. These are:

  1. Beneficence and non-malificence
  2. Fidelity and responsibility
  3. Integrity
  4. Justice
  5. Respect for others’ rights and dignity

Personally when I first heard all of these words I was a bit taken aback and didn’t really know what they all meant. So just to make if clear, for everyone reading this blog, I will just briefly explain each one. Beneficence and non-malificence basically means that the research should be beneficial socially and not harmful. The costs (eg. Duration) to an individual taking part in the experiment should outweigh the social benefits. Fidelity and responsibility refers to the trust and responsibility on local and global levels. On a local level, the participant should be able to trust the researcher; especially when it comes to their well-being and their data being kept confidential. On a global level researchers should be able to trust other researchers in the field. Integrity is important as this is how honest and accurate the research is; basically if it is reliable or not. Integrity states that it is wrong (unethical) to deceive participants. However this is sometimes necessary; for example in observational studies. If you told a person before you observed them that they were going to be observed then they wouldn’t act normally so you would not get true data. Therefore, sometimes you have to ‘deceive’ participants in a way so you can observe them and then afterwards ask them for consent to use their data. Justice is one of the more simple principles to grasp. This principle states that it is considered ethical for everyone to be able to benefit from the research. It is important to not introduce biases (e.g. gender) that will affect how people will benefit from the research. The last of the 5 principles are respect for others’ rights and dignity. This is quite self-explanatory as it means that you should have enough respect for the rights of the participants. Examples of their rights are: that they are fully informed so they can make their own informed decisions, they are aware of any risks and the benefits, their data is kept confidential and their right to withdraw. A participants right to withdraw is really important as if can protect the participants from harm. If a participant is feeling uncomfortable in the situation or is just feeling ill that day then they can withdraw without penalty. This can protect them from harm as it is their decision to continue or not and they will not be penalised if they do end their participation early. This principle does also state that you cannot observe someone without telling them. This is pretty much what I was saying about deceiving participants in observational studies and this is why they can sometimes seem unethical. As I said there are ways to resolve this problem and people obviously do because there are plenty of research out there that is conducted in this way.

There are a few iconic experiments that have been criticised and deemed unethical. Probably the most famous one would be Milgram’s obedience study. Milgram wanted to conduct an experiment to see how obedient an ordinary person would be to an authority figure. This was due to the mass public opinions after the second world war on the Nazi Germans behaviour. Many people said that it was because they were German and something genetically made them behave in this awful manner. Milgram disagreed, which is why he did this study as he believed any human could act in this way depending on the situation. i know the vast majority of you will know this experiment but here is a brief (and I mean brief) overview. There was an experimenter who acted as the authority figure and a ‘victim’/learner; both of these hired by Milgram. The real participant had to take on the role of a teacher. When the learner got answers wrong, the teacher (i.e. the real participant) would have to administer an electric shock to the learner as punishment. These shocks increased in severity with each wrong answer reaching 450 volts (the maximum score), this was labelled ‘XXX’. These shocks were not real even though the victim/learner acted as if they were with increasing shouting and banging which finally led to the victim falling silent. Participants did not know these shocks were not real and truly thought they were giving dangerously high shocks to an innocent person. An astounding 26 out of 40 people continued until the end of the experiment, giving the maximum electric shock of 450 volts.

Now I will go through the ethical principles one by one and discuss Milgram’s obedience experiment. Beneficence and non-malificence – this experiment does benefit society as it gains an understanding of how the Nazi Germans could have acted the way they did and that every single one of us is capable of doing the same. This experiment did not cause serious harm. There was no harm towards the victim. However, some participants experienced symptoms similar to a nervous breakdown; these symptoms were not long lasting. Fidelity and responsibility – in this section we need to decide whether participants could trust the experimenter. Well in the context of the experiment maybe not due to the deception but Milgram kept people anonymous and did not use real names of the participants. Integrity –this is similar to fidelity and responsibility as participants were deceived as it was an observational study and Milgram wanted to observe how people would naturally react in this authoritative situation. However, does this make it unethical? Justice – the main issue with this experiment was it only tested men, which is a gender bias. Under this principle it would make it unethical as it would not benefit women. After these criticisms Milgram conducted a similar experiment with women and found similar results. Does that still mean this experiment is unethical? And the last principle respect for others’ rights and dignity is where there is a massive downfall with this experiment. Milgram deceives his participants meaning they cannot make informed decisions as they are informed on the wrong thing. Also the risks and dangers to the victim were not real and participants were deceived on this count too. It was also questionable whether participants could withdraw from the experiment or not as when they requested to do so they were prompted, however, after requesting 3 times the experiment ended. Another major thing is participants were filmed during the experiment without consent which is unethical.

After considering all these points I would say Milgram’s methods were unethical. This experiment has been replicated so is it truly unethical or did it benefit society? This piece of research opened hundreds of people’s eyes to how people can act when put under pressure from authority. The results were shocking so was it worth being unethical to find these fundamental results? Personally I think some aspects of Milgram’s experiment were unethical (as I have mentioned) but to find out that people can act in such an inhumane way in certain situations because they are told to is hard to believe.

There are other beneficial pieces of research that are unethical but have revealed things about humanity that we wouldn’t know if these experiments hadn’t been done. An example is Zimbardo’s Stanford prison experiment. There is a brief description and quote from Zimbardo in Aronson’s ‘The Social Animal’.

I would recommend looking at http://www.simplypsychology.org/ethics.html if you are bit confused about ethics. I stumbled across it on google and it explained things really clearly.

http://www.garysturt.free-online.co.uk/milgram.htm this website explains in depth Milgram’s experiment (the methods, the results and a discussion) and has a good discussion about whether it was unethical or not. I would recommend having a look if your interested.

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Homework for my TA – week 10

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http://kmusial.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/qualitative-research-isnt-as-scientific-as-quantitative-methods/#comment-23

http://statsbloggy.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/is-it-dishonest-to-remove-outliers-andor-transform-data/#comment-16

http://skakov87.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/what-makes-a-research-finding-important/#comment-22

http://larabarker.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/blog-5-the-misuse-of-statistics-in-tv-advertising/#comment-24

Correlation and Regression

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Woohoo the last of the blogs! … for now anyway. In stats over the last couple of weeks we have been doing correlation and regression, so I thought I would write a blog on it (well try anyway).

Correlation is described as the relationship between two variables. The correlation coefficient (which is the number calculated to describe the correlation) can range from -1 to +1. The closer the value is to 1 (negative or positive) the stronger the correlation/relationship is. If the value is close to -1 this means there is a negative correlation. This means that as one variable increases the other will decrease for example the more diet pills someone takes the less they will weigh. If the score was close to +1 then this would be a positive correlation which means both variables will increase together, for example, the more hours someone goes to work then the more money they will earn by the end of the month. If the value is close to 0 then there is no relationship between these two variables. Scatterplots are very often used to show a correlation with one variable on each axis (i.e. Y axis and X axis). I think scatterplots make it a lot easier to see if there is a relationship between two variables. However, there are limitations to correlational research. The main one is that a correlation cannot say what has caused what. There are different types of correlational studies, for example the survey method. This is probably the most popular method in correlational research but it in itself has its limitations with questionnaires and various biases.

Regression (for me) is more complicated to understand, especially the SPSS stuff. I think I will benefit from writing this blog as it will make me sit and read information about regression and understand it so I can tell you all about it. So here I go…Regression is used after a correlation has been identified to predict things about a variable. For example, on a time scale if you have only collected data until 3 months on the effectiveness of a drug and wanted to know the effects of this drug at 6 months then regression would help to predict this. The regression equation (y=a + bX) is used to calculate the point on the Y axis where the regression line (line of best fit) intercepts. Regression is a good way to determine if a variable causes an effect. For example regression would be able to identify that eating fatty foods is the cause to weight gain.

I believe correlation and regression can be great tools in analysing data and recognising relationships between variables. I personally find regression harder to understand and get my head around but I think it can be a really beneficial tool in research.

I looked at a couple of websites to help me understand this topic. Take a look if you want to know more:

www.stat.pac.cpm/statistics-calculator/correlation-regression.htm

www.experiment-resources.com/correlation-and-regression.html

HOPE YOU ALL HAVE A GOOD CHRISTMAS =]

“Qualitative research isnt as scientific as quantitative research”

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To be honest, before Tracey’s lectures I didn’t really know much about qualitative research and what it involves. I found the lectures and seminars so useful over the past two weeks.

Qualitative methods are a way of escaping the mayhem of numbers of statistics. Qualitative methods attempt to explain behaviour in a detailed way and concentrates on evaluating individual experiences. These methods are used to analyse text, speech or conversations. Data collection generally takes place in the natural setting not a testing room or laboratory. Qualitative methods are a flexible way to approach data which means that they are helpful in generating theories. Qualitative methods are thought to be an easy way out from the statistics and maths but people do not always realise how difficult and time consuming it can be. For a fifteen minute interview it would take two hours to transcribe. Transcribing is a tough task as it is. I have a little bit of expensive with transcription codes from doing English A level so I know even at that level it is difficult. There are many ways to collect data in qualitative research, such as; interviews, focus groups and observation. Interviews can be structured or semi structured. Semi structured interviews are more flexible and allow the conversation to move to what the participant wants to talk about but the researcher may have probe questions to move the interview back to what the researcher is looking for. Interviews can be difficult as the researcher needs to be an active listener. Focus groups are like a form of interview but in a group. There will be a moderator with a group of participants. These focus groups generate rich data through group interaction. They do follow a structure set by the moderator but can alter depending on group discussion but like with an interview the moderator can pull it back on topic. Also it is the moderator’s responsibility to ensure all members of the group play a part in the discussion. Focus groups are useful for generating broad data themes. Observations are another form of data collection with qualitative research. Observations can be expensive and time consuming. They aim to describe and explain social behaviours from the perspective of the participants within the context as they are generally conducted within normal situations. Each type of data collection is more suited to certain situations.

Quantitative methods are seen as more scientific because of the way the data is approached. It is a more controlled process in all stages (eg. Data collection and analysis). The setting is also more controlled as they are commonly conducted in labs. Quantitative methods apply numbers to variables and constructs in order to statistically analyse them afterwards. This is a key reason why quantitative methods are considered to be more scientific because generally there is a more concrete answer, whereas, with qualitative research it is very much down to the researcher’s judgement and interpretation. Another reason why quantitative research is considered to be more scientific is because the experiments are replicable because the methods are very structured. Qualitative methods are very flexible so experiences with this kind of research are more of a one off. The write up of the data in quantitative and qualitative research is similar. For a qualitative research write up it is essential that the research question is specified (as it is in quantitative research). It is also essential to clearly explain which type of data collection was used and the method of transcription. Analysis of data needs to be clearly explained in both types of research, however, in qualitative research you have to ensure you have explained why you have used the method you have used.

A good way to get in depth research that is still considered very much scientific is to use half way house methods which combine both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Qualitative methods are increasingly becoming more scientific over time. Quality control within a qualitative research is essential to ensure an experiment steps into the scientific world and does not float around in a sea of opinions. Quality control refers to the reliability and validity of the experiment. In other words are the measures stable over time and to what extent that something measures what it is intended to measure.

I can understand why people say that qualitative methods are less scientific than quantitative methods, however, I believe qualitative methods is more descriptive and could be more beneficial in discovering how people feel and cope in various situations. I also personally find qualitative methods more interesting but admittedly it sounds like a mammoth amount of work but well worth it in the end. This amount of work, to me, justifies that it should be classified as scientific as there is definitely a lengthy process in data collection, analysis and evaluation in qualitative research. These are similar steps as in quantitative research, I believe the main difference is that in qualitative research there is not a right or wrong answer (it is down to individual interpretation) whereas in quantitative there is a more clear cut answer. Another key difference is that numbers are not used in qualitative research, however, in a half-way house qualitative research and data can be quantified to be analysed in a quantitative way suggesting that it must be scientific if it can be analysed in the same way.

homework for my TA

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http://francesdevine.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/is-it-wrong-to-remove-outliers-from-data/#comment-10

http://roisin07m.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/week-3-wildcard-blog-is-it-dishonest-to-remove-outliers-from-data/#comment-20

http://abbydoesmath.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/declaration-of-helsinki/#comment-22

http://bar;ettdan.worpress.com/2011/10/14/an-example-of-statistics-in-the-real-world-and-its-effectiveness/#comment-14

 

Adoption rate decreases by 5%

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For this week’s blog I am going to talk about adoption and the increase of the amount of children in care. This topic has recently been on the news and is quite a close topic to my heart as my parents have worked for social services for as long as I can remember. They used to do respite foster care which means the children come on regular visits; for example, on weekends, in order to support parents who need it. Adoption, in particular, is close to my heart as I do have four younger siblings that are adopted.
Last year, 2010, 3,050 children from care were adopted. This has in fact decreased from the previous year. The majority of the children adopted, 71% or 2,170 children, were aged between one and four years old. There are different reasons why children are adopted; out of all the adopted children last year 72% were because of abuse or neglect. It is absolutely disgraceful that people that are willing to abuse children even have them in the first place. When stories are on the news or I hear stories on this topic it literally makes my skin crawl. I get so angry that people would treat another human being in such a way.
The problem and main question is why is the adoption decreasing? The adoptive system is like sifting through mud with all the formality, testing and meetings. I completely agree and understand that each child needs a good and stable home to go to and of course the adoptive parents need to know what they are getting in to because I know it isn’t easy. But at the same time there are thousands of children who need a home to go to but spend months and months in care that do not need to. There are so many people out there who want to adopt but drop out of the system half way through because of the difficulty of it and frankly I think the system should be revised and concentrate more on the aim of the process and not nit picking on rules.72.4% of children last year, after the decision that they should be placed for adoption, were adopted within 12 months. I personally think that is a long time in care especially at a young age in the context of development and attachment.
There is more information on this topic on http://www.adoptionuk.org/information/103152/e_factsandfigs/ . As I said this is a topic close to my heart and do get very emotional when topics like this are on the news. It is interesting that there has been a 5% decrease in adoption over the past year and I would like to know your opinions on this and the amount of children that are in care.