3. Sources of data > 3.2 Generating your own data > 3.2.3. Generating data from experimentation
ii. Ethics and experimental and observational studies
When conducting experimental and observational studies, it is important that the units/participants in the study are treated ethically and that the data generated are used ethically. Sometimes an experimental study might not be considered appropriate for a particular treatment because it is considered unethical to deprive some participants of a specific treatment. For example, if you wanted to see whether students learned something more quickly and more deeply when they used a specific computer software package, it might be considered unethical to deprive some students of the software package. As a result, another study method will need to be adopted, perhaps one based on observation rather than experimentation.
Experimental study might also not be considered appropriate for more obvious ethical reasons. You might remember that earlier in Module 1 one of the choices in the scenario about the effectiveness of wearing seatbelts was ‘Conduct an experiment in which a number of drivers, half of which are wearing seatbelts, drive into a brick wall.'. Clearly there are ethical issues to be considered in this instance!
Ethical issues also arise in medical contexts. Let's consider a scenario.
A new anaesthetic called Halothane was introduced in the United States in 1958 . The benefits of Halothane were:
It was safer to use in surgery because it was not flammable;
Fewer patients had negative responses to its use;
People recovered more quickly from this anaesthetic.
Extensive trials indicated that Halothane was a very safe anaesthetic. However, after it had been in use for some time, medical reports seemed to indicate that some patients were dying in similar ways after they had been in surgery and Halothane had been the anaesthetic used. The questions that were asked included:
Was Halothane the cause of these deaths?
Should surgeons continue to use Halothane?
Were these reports of deaths due to the novelty of this new anaesthetic?
Test your knowledge
What would you do in this situation?
Conduct an experiment
Make the data up
Use available data
Make the evidence up
Click here for answers
Was your answer c) Use available data? If so, then you chose the same method that was used by the researchers in the United States who investigated these questions. They obtained data from 34 hospitals across the US that sampled their records of operations over a five-year period.
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