Tuesday, March 17, 2015
Human Research Subjects
This blog was first posted on 3/12/2010; since then there have been at least three major potential experiments which the public can learn from. These haven’t been done intentionally, however it is still important to learn from them; unfortunately those in power don’t seem willing to learn from them. The first is the BP oil spill which provided an enormous amount of evidence to indicate how much damage is being done to the environment. As indicated in my previous post about how BP is just the tip of the iceberg I suspect the spill has been exaggerated; however the cumulative effect of many other spills is much worse than the exaggeration; therefore there is more than enough evidence to indicate that we need major reform and it needs to begin quickly. Since then those in power have indicated that they may not want to do much if anything to reduce environmental damage.
The second is the more recent disaster in Japan which also indicates that we need major reform. There isn’t enough information on this available to come to final conclusions and, unlike the BP spill, what information is available to me doesn’t seem to indicate excessive exaggerations unless you count the way they exaggerate everything; however there was more than enough information before the disaster to indicate that we needed major changes. Once again there is already evidence to indicate that those in power don’t want to do much if anything to address the problem.
The third potential experiment may indicate a possible light at the end of the tunnel though. It is a potential experiment in democracy that is being carried out by the protesters in many countries, including many Arab countries, as well as many states that are standing up to the Republican assault on the working class. They’re receiving little or no help from many if any major institutions yet they have the most potential. Even MSNBC isn’t willing to cut back on their commercials and hype to provide adequate time to cover this fairly. If this experiment in democracy can be expanded then it could lead to education, election and media reform that is badly needed.
The following is the original post.
Human research subjects are being studied on a regular basis. In many cases the benefit of this research is being withheld from the majority of the public and in some cases the knowledge gained by this research is being used against the public.
This isn’t necessarily a conspiracy since in many cases the information is available to the public if people know where to look for it and how to process the information. However most people don’t have the education necessary to do this or they are too distracted to realize how it affects people. In most cases people look at all the aspects of a research project without realizing that is what it is. Simply learning from our mistakes or using trial and error tactics is enough to constitute research and enable people to improve the quality of their lives. By reviewing the most basic aspects of research methods it will be enough to realize how much this affects our lives when it is acknowledged and how many benefits are being passed up when it isn’t acknowledged. To do this I have divided research projects into four different basic categories. These are controlled research, field research, unconscious research and incomplete research.
An example of a controlled research project would involve when the researcher controls as much of the research project as possible excerpt for the aspect they are trying to study. This may often be done in a lab or if it is done elsewhere it will involve controlling part of the research project so that they can isolate one aspect that they are trying to study and sort it out from other contributing causes. One example of this would be a project cited by Murrey Strauss where one group of parents were instructed to raise their children with traditional methods that involved using spanking to discipline their children and another group of parents were instructed to use other methods without ever spanking their children. In this study they would have attempted to pick parents so that each group was similar to the other and the biggest difference would be spanking. This would enable them to isolate the cause and effect of any possible behavioral differences assuming there were no other contributing factors that were overlooked in the study.
An example of a field research project could involve the study of nature. One example of this could be seen by looking at some of the work Jane Goodall has done. When she initially started her research they began interacting with the Chimpanzees. This was later considered improper for the sake of a field research project so they stopped doing it. They later minimized any influence they had on the chimpanzees so they could attempt to learn about their behavior as it would happen in the wild. In this case it is very difficult to sort out many different aspects of their lives and find out what the cause and effect for any particular behavior might be so it is necessary to study them for an extended time to understand the natural behavior of the chimpanzees. Another example would be a study done by Marvin Kohn on the values of people from different classes. This involved interviewing people of different classes to try to understand how the classes differ. In this case the ability to find out all the differences can’t be done by one study so they conduct many different studies and compare them. There is an enormous amount of potential in field research that could benefit the public if people understood it. This could include studying wars, famine, other social activity, the strength of buildings that hold up to earth quakes and many other things. In order to receive these benefits the research has to be done and the work has to be presented to the public one way or another.
An example of an unconscious study would be if an individual that may not be accustomed to doing organized research with thorough records and peer review tries to do a simple activity two different ways and finds one works better and does it that way in the future. This is quite routine for everyone and it is more common among little children who are learning about the world. Simply learning how to walk would be an example of this. If they run to fast they lose their balance and fall down. Then they go slower until they develop better balance. Even animals do this. If you see a sea gull on the beach dropping a clam shell that is the result of an unconscious research project that probably began by accident when a gull thousands of years ago let go and found that after it cracked he could get the food from it which he was unable to eat while it was whole. Then other sea gulls would have learned by watching and repeating. This is the kind of thing that is taken for granted. If people understood they were doing this and applied the same process to other things they could receive much more benefits from it including studying how to avoid crime and even war.
An incomplete research project might involve a situation where people try to do things at least two different ways and they decline to collect the data that enables them to study the situation and learn which way works better. This can be either intentional or unintentional depending on whether or not people think about it and decide to pass up the opportunity for one reason or another. An example of this could be in war time when many of the leaders of a foreign war have often said they don’t feel the need to collect the numbers of woman and children killed often considered collateral damage. They collect this type of data when it involves US soldiers of other American citizens but when it comes to the people of the native country, which in many cases they claim they are liberating, they don’t find it important enough. This information could be very important when studying the social aspects of war. Another example of this would be if a major corporation decides not to make records of information that could lead to the conclusion that they are selling a dangerous project when they find that people are having a lot of accidents. An example of this could be the recent problem with Toyota cars. If they received many reports of problems before it was made public and declined to organize this information and address the problem this would be an example of an incomplete research project that has deadly consequences.
In many cases research projects may not follow into just one of these categories but they may instead be a combination of two or more. In order to determine which it is it helps to start by defining the basics which many members of the public take for granted and many members of the academic world often forget this.
There has been an enormous amount of research done on war that includes war tactics, propaganda and even prevention. Most of this hasn’t been presented to the public in a way they can understand. The most commonly known research has been about war tactics which are often taught in history shows and history class. They are much less likely to discuss the reason for the war when discussing tactics. They usually discuss ways previous generals launched attacks feints and used more advanced technology. They also consider ways future wars may be fought with new technology that may be coming on the market. In some cases they discusses deceptive tactics after the war is over like when there was a false attack leaked to the opposition to distract them from the real attack on D day. When discussing war tactics some military men have said that the decisions about fighting the wars are and should be left up to the politicians and they will accept it without question. This may provide some limitations when considering psychological aspects of the war. During Viet Nam it was decided that they would fight the war or “police action” and then the military was to carry it out. They were told they were fighting to protect democracy and fight against communism. This was considered above reproach. They found that many of the people were working with the enemy in fact few if any people supported the USA unless they were coerced. It is now clear that the assumption that they were fighting for democracy was false. There was no popular support for the USA in Viet Nam. Without acknowledging this they couldn’t anticipate the opposition they would face and they had to fight the war on false pretences which eventually led to defeat and withdrawal. This is a clear case where the research was tainted by political choices. The ability to study tactics without considering potentially related subjects is seriously flawed; few if any other research fields have this problem. Psychologists, sociologists and other academics may base most of their research on the work they have done within their own field but at times they also consult with each other and exchange notes and conclusions enabling them to confirm their work in different ways. They also consult with academics from other fields including history, anthropology etc. Whenever it is necessary to consider another specialty the credible ones do it. When it comes to war, politics or economics this isn’t always the case; which leads people to make some of the most important decisions on based false facts.
There has also been a lot of research done on war propaganda although this hasn’t been presented to the public in a way they can understand it in most cases. This is necessary in order to make propaganda effective. Any research on ways to manipulate the public can’t be presented to the public in an organized way unless you want to warn them and enable them to defend against it. Adolph Hitler demonstrated with his actions that he understood this very well and even described it in his book Mien Kampf. He wasn’t as clear as he could have been but he was far clearer than many if any other high profile book that described war propaganda and made it available to the public. He even described the way he studied hand gestures to manipulate the crowd. This has often been demonized without explaining it to the public in a way they could understand. The result may have been that those that want to manipulate the public may have studied it and incited war while those that want to avoid war may have neglected to understand how it works and wound up being caught of guard one time after another. I have attempted to describe this more in another entry, if the public is taught how to recognize this they will be better equipped to recognize it and avoid war.
There has also been some research in protesting wars and preventing them. Unfortunately this hasn’t been nearly as well organized as the research done by the most powerful institutions that have been leading us into wars one time after another for thousands of years. War protesters don’t have the advantage of using the Mass Media, nor have they had as much influence in school boards which often glorify our leaders even when the most effective solutions have often come from the people, which is a great disadvantage. The Mass Media is powerful tool when it comes to either educating or indoctrinating the public. They have worked with many of the most powerful institutions including the government and many major corporations. They have often asked for input from the public bet they seem very selective about the way they process this and they don’t give nearly enough attention to the academic community that includes many sincere academics. War prevention has been turned into a fringe movement by the most powerful institutions yet there are some serious academics that are studying ways to prevent war. This includes organizing protests and educating the public. What needs to be done is to keep the education efforts going even after the current war ends. The most effective way to stop wars from happening involves addressing the issues before it comes to war.
Advertising companies have also done an enormous amount of research on how to sell their products in a more effective way. When this first began many people thought that the first thing you should do is find a product that is a good quality and fills an important need of the public that improves their lives. Then they would educate the public about the benefits of this product and sell it to them. This was based on the assumption that the public wasn’t stupid enough to by useless products. This assumption turned out to be false. As the advertising industry grew they found that the most effective way to sell their products involves distorting or lying about it. With the domination of the Mass Media by the most powerful corporations and the absence of any real educational efforts by the media they have found that it is much easier to manipulate the public and commit massive fraud. The mere term “marketing research” should be enough to understand that the advertising industry is studying ways to manipulate the public. They have successfully learned how to convince the public that they need just about anything even when many of these products have no practical value at all. Most people are too embarrassed to admit to themselves that they are being manipulated so they deny it which only makes the manipulation easier. Until a system is set up to teach the public about these methods they will continue to fall victim to massive marketing and capitalist fraud.
Research on violence prevention has also been done by many people from many different fields including psychologist, sociologists, historians and many other academics. They have found that the most effective way to stop violence is to start when people are young and prevent child abuse. At times in the past this research has often been compromised by prejudicial beliefs and the desire to obtain revenge often referred to as justice. Many people continue to be more concerned with getting justice after the fact than finding the route causes and preventing them but there are a growing number of researchers who are doing a much better job at this. Unfortunately as I have indicated in other entries this point isn’t getting across to many members of the public.
There has also been a lot research into many medical subjects including depression and ADD. This is just one of many examples where the pharmaceutical companies may be using the public to study the impact of drugs on customers. They generally do field studies before making drugs available to the public and these are supposedly enough to ensure that drugs are safe before they are given to the public. People participating in the field studies within the USA agree to do so willingly with at least some knowledge of what the risks may be although in order to know for certain whether it is enough it will be necessary to review the process with full access to all the data. Other members of the public that accept drugs do so based on the assumption that their doctors are looking out for their health. There have been enough stories about drug company representatives providing incentives to doctors to raise doubts about this and call for a closer review. In the case of antidepressants their have been some stories about some drugs that may have lead to increased suicide rates among some people. This is exactly what the drugs are supposed to prevent. If some of them are doing the opposite that should raise some major red flags. When if comes to treating depression it is important to find the cause of it and prevent it just like many other diseases. Some psychologists have found that child abuse has led to increased rates of depression and dealing with stressful situations has also contributed to increased depression. If this is the case than the most effective way to reduce depression for society involves reducing child abuse and many of the social injustices that lead to depression. These are major problems that will require help form many members of the public who must first be educated about the subject. Since these causes are also the causes of many other social problems this effort will be worthwhile and it will provide an enormous benefit for society. The problem is that addressing these problems involves challenging the most powerful institutions controlling society. This may involve challenging prejudices and the capitalist ideology. Since the most powerful people in society receive their power from the current system they don’t seem to want to change it so they may be trying to treat the symptoms of depression without addressing the cause. This may have led to an unintended research project that uses depressed people as guinea pigs and enables the pharmaceutical companies to make money selling drugs that are going about things the wrong way. Of course their may be many cases where there really is a chemical imbalance also contributing to the problem which needs to be treated. In order to find out which cases are legitimate their needs to be a review of the system that addresses both the medical issues and the financial incentives provided to medical institutions.
According to the first chapter in Gary Webb’s book “Dark Alliance” Several academics have done some research into the effects of cocaine and other illegal drugs on the users. Some doubts have been raised about the credibility of Webb’s book however this chapter is based on academic sources including some testimony presented to congress. Even if there are problems with the portions of the book that are based on the testimony of drug dealers; that isn’t likely to affect this chapter. They have found that some of these drugs are not as dangerous as others and some of them have recommended that they be honest with the public about which is which. The reason for this is that when they tell the public including the users that certain drugs are dangerous even though they are the less dangerous ones the users will know they are lying and they will come to their own conclusions. If they don’t believe them about less sever drugs than when the academics or politicians try to warn them about the drugs that are more dangerous they won’t believe them. They also found some evidence of the potential danger of crack cocaine before it became an epidemic and they recommended that a campaign be carried out to warn the public. These recommendations weren’t carried out. There were warnings given to the public but they were often not based on the research instead they were often based on the political aspects of it for one reason ort another. There were additional research efforts done both in the USA and in Peru on drug users including some in Peru that invited the users to participate in a study where they were given free drugs and payment for participation. This enabled the researchers to study how they affected the users and learn from the damage it does to them but there are ethical concerns that wouldn’t be acceptable in the USA. This research was still reviewed by American academics. They were initially skeptical about the work of the Peruvian researchers but after someone went down there and looked over the data and the situation where the users were living they accepted at least part of it and attempted to warn congress about it. Congress declined to make their decisions about the drug situation based on the research material these academics provided. This lead to a drug policy that has been a complete failure. If they had accepted the results and called for more research into the route causes they may have come up with a much more successful policy. These research projects almost certainly weren’t good enough to understand the drug problem. They almost certainly had to take a closer look at the class problems and other social factors that contributed to the problem to solve it. One of the biggest problems is often the social problems when they are influenced by the policies of those with the most political power at the expense of those without political power. Many politicians are reluctant to accept research that contradicts their ideology which is often influenced by lobbyists with an agenda. This agenda doesn’t involve solving many social problems if they affect the bottom line of many corporations.
The tobacco companies have been doing research manipulating nicotine levels for a long time. They were able to keep this from the public because of laws about trade secrets and attorney client privilege. There are many other cases where major corporations have been able to hide their research even when it influences the public in a negative way. This isn’t limited to research; they can use laws protecting their right to secrecy to manipulate the market in many different ways. The business leaders aren’t the only ones involved in their business deals; they also do business with employees and consumers; however the owners of the business are often the only ones that fully understand many of the aspects of the industry they participate in which enables them to gain the better part of most if not all deals. Industries have the opportunity to collect an enormous amount of information from consumer complaints which can be used for research projects to improve their business but if it involves a danger to the public or shoddy merchandise they are under no obligation to tell the public about it. They often claim they need these secrets to protect their ability to compete but their have been so many stories of corporate espionage and consolidation it is clear that they aren’t protecting this information from the big businesses they are competing with only the small businesses and the consumers. This enables them to prevent small new businesses from entering the market and from allowing the consumer to have the information they need to make rational decisions. This secrecy has enabled the major corporations from covering up or preventing research about dangerous products like Firestone tires ten years ago, tobaccos most dangerous qualities for the last hundred years and current problems with the Prius acceleration going on now. These examples are just a tiny example of the problems that were exposed in the past and there are almost certainly many more that haven’t been exposed yet. Allowing corporations to dominate the research field enables them to design the research to advance corporate profits at the expense of just about everything else including public safety.
Political parties have also done a great deal of researching on advertising which enables them to know how to obtain votes and convince the public to support their cause. This doesn’t seem to involve a rational discussion about many if any of the most important issues. They make little if any effort to address the most obvious and accurate basics of many subjects including the economy. They often study ways to keep the public distracted or to manipulate their emotions. Part of this is the polling that they are doing at an enormous rate. Both the political parties and the Mass media spend much more time conducting polls and discussing them like a horse race than they do the real issues. If they really were concerned with the best interest of the public they would spend more time starting at the basics with simple facts that have often been overlooked including some of the principles I mentioned in the entry about the economy. Political research is mainly about manipulating the public and creating the illusion of democracy without actually letting the public know what the government is doing.
There has also been an enormous amount of research about global warming and other environmental issues including carbon dioxide poisoning and deforestation. Most of this hasn’t been presented to the public in a way they can understand it they spend much more time discussing the issues that are hard to understand and making sure the public can’t figure it out and trying to give them the impression the default position when in doubt should be what’s best for the economy. This has resulted in the unspoken belief that when in doubt we should pollute. They could have done a better job providing an organized chart telling the public what the average temperatures in many parts of the world are and how many storm there have been on any given year so the public can know whether they have been increasing or not but they choose not to. They could also have done a better job telling the public about increased cancer rates in urban areas and parts of the world where pollution is much higher than others. Explaining to the public about the balance between plant life and animal life would make it clear how much pollution is hurting us. Animals need oxygen and plants need carbon dioxide; this is a delicate balance which nature has created and it is being influenced by the industrial revolution. By cutting down forests and burning massive amounts of carbon the human race is making a major change in the ecosystem. Instead of explaining this to the public the upper classes have been protecting the environment in the areas where they live and ignoring the problem every where else. Only those with a good education and political power are entitled to a clean environment.
Class differences have also been studied to a great deal in the academic but little if any of this has been presented to the public. A major part of the reason why there are so many class differences is because the lower classes aren’t receiving a good education that includes research about class differences as well as every other subject. Some academics in the USA are still referring to Marx’s work but unlike the way they refer to it in the Mass Media they often consider it “Marxism theory” which means they look through the details and attempt to confirm which aspects are accurate and valid and which aspects aren’t. This doesn’t happen in the political field. Instead they often equate it with dictatorship or in many cases those that believe in it often refer to it as an absolute solution without trying to sort through the details. This leads to people on both sides of the issue dealing with the subject that is more like a cult belief than a science. In order to deal with it like a science they should encourage the public to understand the different details and find out which aspects are good and which aspects are bad the same way some academics have done. This doesn’t mean that all the academics are trustworthy; in many cases they have also been corrupted by the most powerful institutions. However in the academic community they are much more inclined to show the work so if one academic has been corrupted a close look at his work can show where his mistakes are and he can be discredited. The alternative is to treat the economy as a cult where the leaders dictate the truth to the public as I attempted to indicate in the entry about the economy.
According to research done by Melvin Kohn, Murrey Strauss and other academics class differences have also been maintained by the use of corporal punishment for children and the way the truth is often dictated to them instead of teaching them how to figure out things for themselves and find confirmation to beliefs they are taught. Kohn has found that the lower classes are much less likely to develop self direction skills which are necessary to do many better paying jobs. They are also less able to teach these skills to their children. This enables people born into the upper classes to maintain power over those born into the lower classes. This is made even worse by the fact that current schools are mostly supported by property taxes ensuring that poor people will never have as much funding for their schools as rich people. Under the current circumstances when we run into economic problems the first thing to be cut may be the education for the poor that need it most and in some cases like recent political events the rich corporations may be bailed out with tax payer dollars. This is creating a form of socialism that is designed to protect the rich at the expense of the poor.
There has also been a lot of research done on the behavior of crowds or “mob rule” as it has often been referred to. One thing they often fail to mention is the fact that the mob or crowd is often manipulated by demagogues and they are much more likely to react when there is a legitimate problem although they may not always understand it. It would be helpful to understand the different way some mobs have behaved in the past. They haven’t always been violent irrational mobs; in some cases especially more recent ones they have been well organized and peaceful including speakers at their protest that attempt to educate the public about issues and express legitimate grievances although you might not know this based on what the media presents. The media is much more likely to present protests as peaceful if it is against a government they are opposed to like Iran. In most cases when they are against the governments or economic institutions supported by the media they put much more emphasis on the violence and vandalism even if there isn’t much of it. The Mass media has rarely if ever done a good job giving these protesters a chance to address the majority of the public; but they are much more inclined to give business leaders a chance to speak. A close look at the difference between the behavior of modern protests and the behavior of mob activity when the American Protection League was operating and when lynch mobs were common may help determine how people behave in crowds. In the past mobs have often been manipulated by demagogues some of whom have learned how to manipulate the mobs by experimentation and either did so to feed their own ego and seek power or turn them against each other and help preserve the power of the status quo by using divide and rule tactics. Many of these demagogues who have manipulated the crowds have turned around and criticized the mobs for their irrational behavior and cited this as an excuse to maintain authority over them. They of course fail to mention their participation when issuing this criticism. Some research has indicated that a big part the difference may be how the people from the crowd were raised as little children. In the beginning of the twentieth century there was much more emphasis on corporal punishment and teaching children to accept what they’re told without question. This may have led to mobs that were much more inclined to act out of anger and follow the leader without question. Many modern crowds may be much more educated and rational offering opportunities to reform democracy. The public can turn the tables by studying the government and corporations the same way they are studying us and create real democracy. The most important activities by these “mobs” to reform government wont be massive protests but efforts to learn before and after the protests. These can be done in small groups or individually at classes, discussion groups, library’s or even at the beach if you bring the right book with you. However the governments, corporations and Mass Media has indicated they won’t pay attention to this if they have a choice so even though protests may not be very efficient they may be necessary to get the attention of these pseudo-democratic institutions. Once these institutions are reformed and they are truly democratic people can use other more efficient means to reform government.
The government and the CIA have done many research projects including studying the effects of radiation exposure, agent orange exposure, manipulation efforts using LSD, torture, propaganda and many other things. Unfortunately they have done a lot of this in secret so it is difficult to know exactly what happened in many cases or to know how many more of these types of experiments they have done. One of the more notable research projects that have been done in the past is the Milgram project which was funded from the National Science Foundation with the support of the Office of Naval Research. As indicated in the entry about torture Alfred McCoy has stated that he believes the CIA may have supported this project as well. Even if they didn’t they surely would have taken notice of it. Philip Greven has indicated that he believes that Stanley Milgram should have looked closer into the childhood of his subjects. This is certainly a good idea and according to Peter Singer’s book review cited below Lauren Slater or someone else may have done this since Greven published his book “Spare the Child” in 1991. A close look at Milgram’s book may also shed some light on this. In the justification given to the subjects he includes a claim that spanking is used to educate in a manner similar to the experiment. The fact that they raised no question about this indicates that they might have accepted it without question. Another thing to look into could be Stanley Milgram’s own childhood. He could be the research subject as well as the researcher. By understanding if he was raised in a disciplinarian manner and looking at the culture during the cold war in the sixties it may help understand why this was done at all. If as McCoy believes then the CIA was involved then they may be the authority that Milgram was obeying when he conducted this experiment. Another similar project was done by Philip Zimbardo called “The Stanford prison Experiment” where students were instructed to play the roles of prisoners and guards. It became necessary to end this project early because the guard became too cruel. These particular projects weren’t kept secret from the public; they were published in the seventies but many members of the public almost certainly didn’t take much if any notice of it. Military institutions and the CIA surely must have paid more attention to it which would enable them to understand how to obtain obedience from the recruits; however members of the public who didn’t pay attention would be less likely to understand how they were being used by authority. The CIA has almost certainly taught this to many of their foreign students that studied at the School of the Americas or other similar institutions. This is an example of using research to manipulate people and only providing it to those with the appropriate educational opportunities. Enough information has come out to know that these research projects and more have been done but it has also indicated that a lot of the information presented to the public continues to be suspect. There may be much more information available from these research projects and unless it is exposed the public will have no way of knowing whether it is being used to manipulate them. Secret research being done by the government with tax payer money is one of the greatest threats to democracy there could be perhaps far greater than any foreign or terrorist threat. Many of these research projects have been exaggerated and ridiculed but this only confuses the issue more and turns it into a joke. In order to address this it will be necessary to sort out the exaggerations and get to the truth by carefully checking the facts.
Copyrights have been a major obstacle to sharing the results of research. In many cases even when the government has financed research they have often allowed corporations or other private institutions to have copyrights and control the way the information is distributed. In the computer age this has prevented many people from obtaining an enormous amount of information which could be cut and pasted for free without any publishing costs. Instead of revising the way we finance research they have searched for ways to put this information online without allowing the cut and paste option. This means if anyone wants to distribute this information they must either obtain permission or type it up and risk prosecution. Studies funded with the support of taxpayer dollars should be the property of the people and they should be made available to everyone for free if possible. The internet makes this possible although if the public wants a printed copy it may be reasonable to charge for it. Some projects like the Milgram project shouldn’t have copyrights and others like Melvin Kohn book “Class and Conformity” which was also produced withy government funding should be made available free on line. “Class and Conformity” may not be copy written but it still isn’t available on line for free in a way that is easy to find. The print copy of it doesn’t make the usual all rights reserved claim however there is a partial copy available from Google which claims it is copy written. Revising the way research is funded could enable us to avoid copy rights entirely bet even if we do continue to rely on them to provide funds for research there is no need for them to be so long or to charge so much for on line E-books. The cost of these could be cut dramatically and by making much more information available on line people can check sources to find out if they are being taken out of context much easier. For example the new release of Milgram’s book includes the following statement from peter Singer as a review: “Milgram’s experiments on obedience have made us more aware of the Dangers of uncritically accepting authority,” this statement doesn’t sound like what Singer would say without adding more criticism which he did. This wasn’t included in the review cited but if it was available on line people could check quickly and easily to find if they are being taken out of context. The full review by Singer is provided in a link below. Alfred McCoy appears to be far more credible than Milgram but it would still be helpful to be able to check his sources quickly by clicking on a link that leads directly to the sources. The internet has already provided many improvements to research opportunities but it could still do much better if organization and copyright laws are reformed. Many of the best academics are trying to advance education but they are still doing so with unethical copyright laws that prevent many people from having easy access to information. Even Robert McChesney who has done the best job that I know of criticizing copyright laws is trying to work within them to get his point across. It may be necessary to conduct this criticism at the grass roots level since the publishing companies may not want to challenge these laws and therefore won’t publish serious criticism.
The data should be organized and preserved in the most efficient way possible and presented to the public and this should be financed one way or another. A strong democracy requires an educated public with access to the information they need to make decisions. If this information is controlled by the upper classes and only distributed in a manner that enables them to maintain power over the rest of the world this would create a sophisticated state of virtual slavery. The upper classes currently have all the control over the most powerful institutions and use this power to manipulate everyone else and most people don’t have the education and the rational thinking skills to understand this.
Peter Singer and others have done some ethical research and discussion to develop what they consider good ethics to be abided by the research institutions. They have made a good case in many instances and those that disagree could review their work but once again their books are not available to the public as easily as they could and should be. One of the biggest ethical problems should be that all this research is being done but the educations system is antiquated. We need a much better educational system to get these points of view across to the public in the early school years and for those that are already inclined to look things up on their own and do their own research with out help from colleges. Most discussion that I’m aware of in the past, including Peter Singers books “Practical Ethics” and “Animal Liberation” are about the ethics of using people or animals as research subjects in controlled projects where they are intentionally being used for this purpose. They discuss the ethics of inflicting emotional and physical distress on these people as they should. In many cases once the experiments have been done many people may raise ethical questions about how this research is used. Should researcher be allowed to profit from it? In some cases people may consider rejecting the research. Nazi experiments have often been demonized and discredited on moral grounds but does that make them flawed on a scientific basis? In some cases when they allow their prejudices to impair their judgment it does but in some cases if the data has been recorded properly it can be reviewed and from a scientific point of view it may be sound. We may still be able top learn from this data no matter how distasteful it is. The most important thing is to learn how to make sure the holocaust never happens again in the most effective way possible. In some cases if the damage has already been done then passing up the benefit of learning will only result in the damage happening for no good reason and the past may repeat itself again.
There is much less specific discussion about field research and learning from history. People like Howard Zinn, Alfred McCoy, Carl Sagan and others have all casually referred to experiments in global warming, war, the development of a surveillance state and other subjects. These people have done a lot to attempt to teach the public about these subjects and prevent further disasters but they haven’t done as good a job as they could and perhaps should have at describing the basic principles as I attempted to in the opening of this entry. Not that they should be expected to cover every thing; no one person including me could catch all these issues which is why there should be more peer review and the public should be more involved with this. In most cases they seem to be referring to what I called field research or unconscious research. By understanding these basics better many members of the public may find it easier to recognize that most of what we do could be part of a research project and we could find much more effective ways to improve our society.
The biggest ethical problem about Milgram’s experiment may not be that it was done but that instead of presenting it to the public on a large scale and using it to educate them and avoid wars they gave the public a token amount of education and allowed the military, CIA and other powerful institutions to look it over much closer and use their knowledge to obtain obedience. By not educating the public after each war we pass up an opportunity to prevent the next war. In many cases those in power don’t pass up the opportunity but they study how to benefit from the next wart not to avoid it. Hitler studied war propaganda after WW 1. Various espionage institutions starting with ones run by Ralf Van Deman studied ways to conduct espionage, this was escalated when the CIA was created. Many other efforts have been done to preserve power even when it involves using war and divide and rule tactics. Until the public learns to study how to avoid being manipulated they will never have a sincere democracy. One thing that could be learned from Milgram’s experiment is that they were less likely to go along with the program if they were in closer proximity to the victim. Imagine if instead of shocking the victim nearby all the subject had to do was buy stuff at the store and fill up their gas tank and this resulted in the torture and murder of people thousands of miles away. Imagine if they subject wasn’t told about the damage they were doing by filling up their gas tank. This hypothesis isn’t far from the truth. By going along with the program people support the current economic system and in very complex ways it has a global impact. If the media would educate the public about all the damage being done by the multi-national corporations around the world they would be much less likely to support the capitalist overdrive system. The biggest ethical problem with research is the lack of an educational system to follow up and pass the results on to the public.
If the public were more educated about the benefits and costs of research they could and should be part of the decision making process about the ethics of research. Ideally no one would be used as a research subject without their permission. The problem is that many people would never accept being used for the most damaging research project therefore they would never be done. This has resulted in a situation where people and animals without political power have been used for research primarily for the benefit of those with political power and those involved in the research. The most effective way to address this is to bring it out in the open in the most effective way possible. Current laws don’t allow that so some of the more zealous advocates for those without political power have done what they could to expose this. This includes organizations like PETA that have obtained confidential information about research and made it available to the public. Some of them have been charged with crimes at times but it often appears as if the people doing the research may have been the ones behaving in the less ethical manner. Whether this is true may depend on the purpose of the research and the potential for benefit and whether or not it is presented to the public or not. Some of the things that Peter Singer has criticized the most are research projects that are done for the development of cosmetics at the expense of animals. This would not be considered ethical if it was done to a human for such a shallow purpose. Perhaps it would be better to research our own cultural values. PETA has often been criticized for using unethical tactics. This often appears to be justified but it may also be true that they resorted to these tactics only after they found that other tactics didn’t work. The Mass Media often uses sex appeal and other deceptive tactics similar to the ones PETA uses as well but they present it in a way that should be considered ethical when they do it. If the Mass Media and other organizations allowed scrutiny and brought these issues to the attention of the public then PETA might not be in a position where they feel they have to use these tactics or give up.
If the public can be educated about how this research is being done and they understand how major institutions are being run they could vote in people that are much more concerned with looking out for the best interest of the public instead of the corporations. By learning from all these research projects the public can turn the world into something similar to the mythical heaven instead of the real life hell on earth that many people are currently living in now.
Review of Milgram’s book “Obedience to Authority” by Peter Singer
Peter Singers web site
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