Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Word That Shall Not Be Named…

An interview is a form of qualitative research that enables researchers to “obtain information that cannot be gained by observation alone” (McCutcheon, 2015), or more simply, “a conversation between a researcher and an informant/respondent” (McCutcheon, 2015). Depending on its purpose and protocol, an interview can involve multiple people in a focus group or one individual, and can be conducted in either a structured, semi-structured or unstructured form, each providing the interviewer, and therefore the interviewee, with a different level of flexibility and freedom.

When considering the topic for Assessment 2 and this final blog I originally opted to continue on from the first blog required in BCM 210, in which I identified my interest in researching whether increased exposure to violent media content desensitised young people to violence and even promoted violent behaviour. However, I have instead elected to pursue a very different but equally interesting issue: the media’s contribution to the reappropriation of the word “nigger”, otherwise known as the “N word”.

My first two survey questions were structured interview questions adapted from my group’s questionnaire that aimed to introduce the interviewees to the topic and break down any discomfort or timidness preventing them from responding honestly about the role of the “N word” in both contemporary media and culture:

  1. What do you perceive to be the meaning of the “N word”? Would you associate it more with camaraderie or racial persecution?
  2. Have you ever used the “N word” in either of these contexts?

When asked the first question, my group, who consist of a Caucasian male, Caucasian female and Asian male, were initially quite tentative to respond. In order to combat this I had each of them say the word out loud and then describe what they thought it meant after having said it, which seemingly removed the elephant in the room and freed the group members up to talk more openly. It was then that each member of the group confessed to having used the word before in the context of camaraderie.

The following two questions were far more open-ended in nature, allowing the interviewees to give more personalised answers:

  1. Are you exposed to the use of the “N word” in the media that you regularly consume? If so, in what context is it used?
  2. Do you think that there is a relationship between the increased presence of the “N word” in the media and the changing role of the “N word” in the society in which you live?

The group then proceeded to engage in a highly constructive discussion about their experiences with the “N word”, bringing up examples of how the media that they consume has desensitised them to the term and even influenced the frequency of their use of the term. These examples included Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012), gangsta rap artists such as Tupac and even specific songs such as Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Niggas in Paris (2011). Examples of individuals who had been shamed by the media for their use of the “N word”, including Jeremy Clarkson, Paula Deen and Donald Sterling, were also brought up in the group’s discussion, allowing the group to reconsider the discriminatory and culturally divisive power of this word that still exists in modern society despite its increased use and changing role.

This interview was a highly constructive experience that enabled me to gain a greater understanding of how different types of questions can vary in their ability to promote honest, useful responses from interviewees.

Reference List:

Carter, S & West, K 2011, ‘Niggas in Paris’, in Watch the Throne, Roc-A-Fella/Roc Nation/Def Jam.

McCutcheon, M 2015, Lecture 6: Interviews, Focus Groups, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, pp 10.

Tarantino, Q 2012, Django Unchained, Columbia Pictures.

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Critique of Marsden & Melander’s ‘Historical Cases of Unethical Research’ (2001)

Serena Marsden and Melissa Melander’s academic article, Historical Cases of Unethical Research (2001) is in most ways an effective, accurate and succinct account of the history of unethical research and the development of ethical codes and regulatory bodies responsible for enforcing ethical standards and protecting human subjects involved in research, such as the Belmont Report and the Institutional Review Board. Some of the key factors that make this text authoritative are Marsden and Melander’s use of an objective, analytical writing form suited to their academic audience and the content of this article, as well as their examination of a wide variety of significant historical case studies.

The purpose of Marsden and Melander’s article is to analyse how and why particular historical cases of unethical research have influenced the way human subjects are treated in contemporary research practices. In order to effectively explore this topic Marsden and Melander investigate five of the most significant unethical research studies of the 20th century. The accuracy and succinctness of Marsden and Melander’s investigations into these cases, and in particular their analyses of the treatment of the human subjects involved in each study and the ethical questions raised by each study, such as subjects’ rights to autonomy and self-determination, beneficence, justice, privacy, confidentiality and anonymity, and non-maleficence, is one of the critical aspects of this article that makes it so effective. These studies include:

  1. The horrifying medical and scientific experiments conducted by Nazi physicians in German concentration and extermination camps between 1933 and 1945.
  2. Stanley Milgram’s 1961 experiment on the nature of obedience and authority when one’s conscience is questioned.
  3. The 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Study involving four hundred poor African-American men.
  4. The Willowbrook Hepatitus study conducted from 1963 to 1966 on a group of uninformed mentally disabled children.
  5. Laud Humphrey’s “tearoom sex” study of impersonal homosexual acts committed by males in public restrooms in the mid-1960s (Marsden & Melander, 2001: 1-3).

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Being an article published by the University of North Dakota Press, the audience for Historical Cases of Unethical Research (2001) would primarily consist of academics studying or interested in the history of unethical research and the development of ethical codes and regulatory bodies responsible for enforcing ethical standards and protecting human subjects. As a result of this, Marsden and Melander employ an objective and analytical writing form that aims to communicate the relevant information as clearly and accurately as possible, however, the authors also maintain a definite position throughout the text. This is possible as a result of this article’s content, which includes cases that are so inhumane and immoral, as well as historically distant, that any contemporary civilized reader would immediately adopt the authors’ position that this kind of treatment of human subjects in unacceptable, which enables Marsden and Melander to avoid using a subjective voice.

Like any other article, however, Marsden and Melander’s article is not perfect. Not only do the authors fail to provide any in-text citations, but the referencing produced at the bottom of the article is also highly substandard, with no definite style or method evident in their approach. Furthermore, elementary spelling and grammar mistakes can be found scattered throughout the article, such as “historical eases”, which can be found in the opening line in place of “historical cases” (Marsden & Melander, 2001: 1). Nevertheless, as a whole Marsden and Melander’s Historical Cases of Unethical Research (2001) is still a very effective, accurate and succinct article that provides a clear and authoritative analysis of its topic.

Reference List:

Marsden, S & Melander, M 2001, Historical Cases of Unethical Research, University of North Dakota Press, Grand Forks, pp 1-3.


Horrible Histories: (Un)ethical Research

Ethics’ are defined as the “moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity” (Oxford University Press, 1997: 1), and are one of the most critical facets of any research. This comes as a result of a number of historical cases of unethical research that demonstrated the horrific consequences of such practices. These kinds of unethical studies eventually led to the creation of the Nuremburg Code, Belmont Report and the Institutional Review Board, which were formed to protect human subjects and establish codes of conduct for ethical research practices (Marsden & Melander, 2001: 1).

The origins of ethical research standards and its importance came about following the horrendous research practices committed by physicians working for the Nazi Party between 1933 and 1945. The two most notorious of these were Aribert Heim and Josef Mengele, respectively known as “Doctor Death” and the “Angel of Death” (Mekhennet & Kulish, 2009: 1; Levy, 2006: 242), however, there were fourteen other German physicians also found to have practiced horrifically unethical medical experiments on the prisoners of the Concentration and Extermination Camps operated by the Nazi Party during this period, including unnecessarily removing organs and limbs from prisoners without anaesthesia, directly injecting various chemicals into the heart to induce death, and even sewing two Romani twins together in a failed attempt to create conjoined twins (Heller, 2011: 85; Lifton, 1986: 347-353; Marsden & Melander: 2001: 1; Posner & Ware, 1986: 37). In 1947, as a result of the subsequent Nuremburg trials, the Nuremburg Code was written (Marsden & Melander, 2001: 1). This code was the first major acknowledgment of the importance of ethics in research, and was created so that research participants could be protected and the aforementioned Nazi physicians could be convicted for crimes against humanity. The Nuremburg Code also led to research standards requiring that subjects participate voluntarily and be informed of the risks of the research.

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Top left: Dr Mengele’s attempt at creating conjoined twins; they suffered for over a week before dying. Top right: Dr Mengele kept child twins in a separate area of Auschwitz so that he could perform his experiments on them. Bottom left: various experiments conducted by Drs Mengele and Heim and their gruesome results. Bottom right: Dr Mengele experimenting on the results of inhaled gas on a set of teenage twins at Auschwitz.

Other significant historical cases of unethical research include the Stanley Milgram’s experiment in 1961 involving “teachers” and “learners” and obedience toward authority, the US Public Health Service’s Tuskegee Syphilis Study in 1932 involving four hundred financially poor African American men who eventually either died or suffered from serious syphilis related conditions, the Willowbrook Study conducted between 1963 and 1966 on a group of mentally disabled children living at the Willowbrook State Hospital in Staten Island who were deliberately infected with hepatitis and studied as an assessment of the effects of gamma globulin as a therapeutic intervention as well as the history of the virus when left untreated, and Laud Humphreys’ mid-1960s “tearoom sex” study of impersonal homosexual acts committed by males in public restrooms (Marsden & Melander: 2001: 1-3).

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Top left: a diagram detailing Stanley Milgram’s study of obedience and authority. Top right: a group of the mentally disabled people living at Willowbrook State Hospital at the time of the hepatitis study. Bottom left: a newspaper headline after the details of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study were released. Bottom right: the front cover of Laud Humphrey’s ‘Tearoom Trade’, which was the final result of his “tearoom sex” study.

The importance of ethics in research cannot be determined by a legal document, a statistic or a great quote, but only by looking at the repercussions of unethical research for the subjects of these cases. These people had their fundamental human rights completely dismissed, were placed under unnecessary emotional and psychological stress, experienced no kind of beneficence or justice, had their private lives and personal information documented and analysed with their knowledge or informed consent, were victims of deception or concealment, and did not have any kind of autonomy or self-determination regarding their role in their respective research study. These people are the reason why ethical research, ethics codes such as the Nuremburg Code and Belmont Report, and regulatory bodies such as the Institution Review Board, are so important, so that past atrocities may hopefully never be repeated or, more realistically, may never go unpunished.

For some more info on any of these cases just check out these Youtube videos!
1. Nazi medical experiments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVkEnN8YpkU

2. Stanley Milgram’s obedience and authority study: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcvSNg0HZwk

3. Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Rg75zEVB1g

4. Willowbrook Hepatitis Study: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b2aMlo_vJpE

5. Laud Humphrey’s “tearoom sex” study: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsFa10JFats

Reference List:

Heller, K 2011, ‘The Trials. Introduction: the indictments, biographical information, and the verdicts’, in The Nuremburg Military Tribunals and the Origins of International Criminal Law, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 85.

Levy, A 2006 (1993), Nazi Hunter: The Wiesenthal File (Revised 2002 ed.), Constable & Robinson, London, pp 242.

Lifton, R 1986, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, Basic Books, New York, pp 347-353.

Marsden, S & Melander, M 2001, Historical Cases of Unethical Research, University of North Dakota Press, Grand Forks, pp 1-3.

Mekhennet, S & Kulish, N 2009, Uncovering Lost Path of the Most Wanted Nazi, The New York Times, New York, pp 1.

Oxford University Press 1997, ‘Ethics’, in Oxford English Dictionary, vol. 3, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 1.

Posner, G & Ware, J 1986, Mengele: The Complete Story, McGraw-Hill, New York, pp 37.