From time to time we hear about scientists who conduct experiments that generate a lot of excitement. It is perhaps unsurprising though that their research is often perceived as being controversial in some way, and more often than not, it is related to a whole host of ethical concerns. One approach to research that has elicited considerable ethical debate in the past, involves psychologists who experiment on themselves and in some cases, their children!
Challenging the extent in which such studies could be hugely important and ground-breaking are discussions concerning today’s ethical standards, which have appropriately been put in place, but still facilitate discussion. The main ethical issues concern, the wellbeing of the experimenter as potential risks may outweigh the potential benefits of the research, issues around consent (for studies involving children), and to what extent there are actual benefits and relevant implications from the findings.
Subsequently, it has provoked many of us to reflect upon the practices that have been undertaken, the arguments surrounding the ethical boundaries of research, and what implications the research findings actually have. I think that it is a key time when the academic community and particularly early career researchers should to develop their own viewpoints about the ethical issues surrounding self-experimentation, against the backdrop of considering what research couldlook like in the future.
Our ‘special feature’ this month covers the experience of Peter Kinderman, a Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool, who is self-medicating with Chlorpromazine (an anti-psychotic drug used in the treatment of Schizophrenia and Psychosis), with a view to gain a ‘personal’ understanding of what those with mental illness experience when taking the medication and managing its side effects. Kinderman provides us with a unique by documenting his journey before, during and after self-medicating. You can read his blog here: http://peterkinderman.blogspot.co.uk/search?updated-max=2014-07-09T23:17:00-07:00&max-results=2
There is a comprehensive range of ethical concerns surrounding what Kinderman is involved in. It is worth noting a few of the main concerns that have been made in response to Kinderman’s blog:
Potential danger of the side effects outweighing the research benefits
Applicability- what can actually be learned from taking the drug when:
- Kinderman will not engaging in ‘everyday’ tasks
- Only experiencing side effects not side effects and a mental illness
- Taking Chlorpromazine for a brief period (3 days)
I think that these concerns are perfectly understandable and cannot be ignored when drawing conclusions from the self-experimentation; in fact they reflect the advancements in the practice of scientific research which show the way in which we have learned from historical practices that must be severely questioned. It is therefore suggested that the parameters in which the self- experimentation is conducted, does need recognising by both the experimenter and critics when reflecting upon the findings and potential implications of the research.
In response to Kinderman’s experimentation, Marissa Pendlebury (one of our editors) helps us consider the concept of self-experimentation in scientific research, by considering its role historically and in the current climate of research. This insightful piece concludes with Marissa sharing her personal perspective with us …