Should unethically obtained data be banned from scientific research?
During World War II the Nazis experimented on people in concentrations camps, examining twins, freezing, and poison to name a few areas of study. Nobody is arguing whether or not experiments on such individuals are right when such cruelty as deliberately infecting someone with typhus bacteria is clearly wrong. The issue at debate here is whether such data yielded from unethical experiments should be used. Today, I pose this question, should unethically obtained data be banned from scientific research?
* Bioethics. Once society learned of the heinous experiments Nazis conducted on concentration camps, the study of medical ethics began to flourish. Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) already exist at most major medical centers. It is society's' current standards which call for banning use of unethically obtained data.
* Undercut Demand. Not banning the data empowers rogue experimenters to provide the data. Stealing someone's kidneys is illegal, but so is buying someone's kidneys. Banning the use of unethically obtained data will drive out demand for such data.
* Lacks Consent. If patients never gave consent for research, this is a complete infringement of their rights. Without consent, such as the case of Nazi experiments, the data is grounded in unfair use the makes plagiarism or piracy look almost reasonable.
* Data Neutrality. While horrible things have been done in the past, we cannot unlearn this knowledge. Scientists know that humans die when the body's temperature falls below 25 degrees Celsius. We can't unlearn this fact. Scientists know this due to Nazi research. The data is not to blame. Data is neutral.
* Context. Users of data should not avoid the origins of the data, but instead publicize the foundations of such data. Discussing the horrors of Nazi experimentation will do more to avoid a similar event in the future than pushing the data aside and not discussing it.
* Benefits. What is ethical is too often too subjective. Many drugs now used, such as insulin and antibiotics, were first tested on animals. How can we deny diabetic children insulin just because someone else might argue that obtaining the data from animals is ethically wrong?
Next week: Should the directors of multinational companies be personally liable for environmental abuses committed by their companies in the developing world?
Roger Hatridge coaches debate at Leaders Academy and can be reached at Hatridge@gmail.com.