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.

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About Tom Fogarty

I'm 20 years old. I live on the South Coast. I'm currently studying a double degree in Media and Communications at UOW. I'm in a hardcore band called Pariah. Thats about it, as far as I know anyway. View all posts by Tom Fogarty

3 responses to “Critique of Marsden & Melander’s ‘Historical Cases of Unethical Research’ (2001)

  • chantellemayo

    Hey there! I really enjoyed your blog post about unethical research, you take an interesting perspective and it definitely made me want to find out more about the case studies you described. You might find this timeline of changes in research ethics interesting, and I would recommend giving it a read:
    http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/resources/bioethics/timeline/
    Again, great job!

  • naomioliver

    Hi Tom,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post.

    Your blog was very detailed and well informed I think this is because you’re writing style is very succinct which has enabled you to cover nearly all the different components of how to analyse a text.

    I like how you have used bullet points to address the different historical case studies this makes your blog easier to read and user friendly.

    Your topic is very interesting and I look forward to reading more posts.

  • maxpasalic

    Interesting read Tom! Your writing is succinct and allowed me to really grasp the main points straight away. Perhaps you could have elaborated on a particular case study and contrasted it with another ethical code if we had more time and a higher word count.

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