Jun 3, 2020 in Analysis

The Different Perspectives of Morality and Ethics

It is well-known fact that ethical and moral considerations must underlie any scientific research. Hence, the violation of these philosophic categories often becomes the reason for considerable research misconducts. To a great extent, it happens due to certain differences between ethics and morals. Moreover, it is crucial to emphasize the conflict of interests that may emerge between involved parties. This paper addresses the human ethics involved in the following surveys: the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and Yanomami: The Fierce People. Both works consider the racial and ethnic-based discrimination; therefore, racism and neglect of cross-cultural perspective are the two main objectives that are explored. The purpose of this paper is to analyze racism and the lack of cultural sensitivity by identifying their causes and effects in terms of philosophic, political, and social dimensions.


Racial Discrimination

First, it is necessary to understand why racism and poor cultural sensitivity are ethical issues. Scholars define racism as recognizing “people as being different and ignorant merely because of this one identifiable factor”. This notion contains two premises. The first one, namely being different, does not seem to be an ethical issue in itself, because one ethnic group varies from another in a number of biological factors that can be observed even visually. In contrast, the second premise, namely being ignorant implies that racism is a serious ethical problem because it discriminates humans on the ground of their origin. Analyzing racism from the perspective of functionalism, one may rightfully deduce that it is a methodology “used when people of any specific category make derogatory racial statements and/or discriminatory stereotypical identities about a mass majority”. This paper focuses on the functionalistic definition of racism. In order to understand in what ways racial/ethnic segregation is related to moral and ethical norms, it is necessary to determine the correlation between these philosophic notions. 

The Ambiguity of Morals and Ethics

Philosophers assert that morals include both individual and cultural relativism. Specifically, it is believed that moral norms are created by an individual; thus, they vary from a person to person. This phenomenon is known as individual relativism. In addition, cultural relativism suggests that there are morals that is acknowledged and shared by a certain group of people. In this case, cultural relativism functions for defining one nation from another. Therefore, the moral norms of different cultures may either resemble or be diverse. 

Similarly to morals, ethics possesses a great amount of ambiguity, as well. For example, one may distinguish ethical egoism that is “an action [that] is morally right if the consequences of that action are more favorable than unfavorable only to the agent performing the action”. Considering that researchers aim at obtaining certain benefits and merits of the survey, this essay utilizes the concept of ‘ethical egoism’ for describing the discussed cases. 

While discussing human ethics in research, it is necessary to stress that those ethical standards of every study should be based on three major principles: “respect for persons, beneficence, and justice”. Each of these principles resonates with the ethical issue of the racial and ethnic discrimination. This project strives to define which of the aforementioned principles were violated in every study, what implications the violated ethics caused, and what strategies could have been utilized in order to prevent such ethical misconduct.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study

The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male took place in Tuskegee University in 1937-1972. The sample consisted of 600 participants, 2/3 of whom were diagnosed with latent syphilis. The enrolled men were deprived of the possibility to quit an experiment or took other treatment simultaneously with the survey. As a result, many of them lost an opportunity to be cured with the help of penicillin. Moreover, as not being told about the nature and plausible consequences of the disease, they infected a great number of the population of Macon County, Alabama. 

When addressing ethical issues of the study, one should note that its authors provided the sample group with the free medical examination, drives to and back from laboratories, treatment of other minor illnesses, free meals, and compensation of funeral expenses. Most of these benefits were in the interest of researchers since they wanted to know how latent syphilis behaved with and without concomitant health issues. In addition, it is natural to suggest that helping relatives with funerals was offered with the view to preventing fierce public discontent. Indeed, the discussed experiment had been concealed for about 40 years. Once the truth was revealed, it evoked a number of ethical considerations in political, social, and moral realms. Specifically, it contributed to the racial conflicts between the Caucasians and African-Americans. Moreover, important social issues such as poverty and racial/ethnic stratification were emphasized by the disclosure of the details of this study.

Yanomami: The Fierce People

The study Yanomami: The Fierce People was conducted by an anthropologist, Napoleon Changnon, in South America. In particular, for about 30 years, Changnon had observed the life of some primitive tribes in Venezuela and Brazil. In the end, results were documented and released to the publicity. Hence, the researcher was accused of neglecting the cross-cultural perspective because of giving a negative description of the observed tribes. As a result, this situation caused adverse political implications. Specifically, the tension in political relations between the United States and Brazil was intensified by the discussed ethical misconduct. Consider the argument;

the stigmatization and brutalization of the Yanomami as “the fierce people,” both as a label and as a continuing central theme of his work, has been picked up by the conservative media in Brazil and used as a rationalization for forced acculturation and assimilation that amounts to ethnocide and genocide.

The aforementioned political considerations correlate with the social issue of the poor cultural sensitivity, as well as imply the violation of ethical principles. 

The Comparison of Human Ethics Violations in Both Studies

When defining practical implications of each research, it is necessary to stress that the practical value of findings is the basis of morals that underlie any study. In other words, the authors of the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male and Yanomami: The Fierce People had a noble purpose of contributing to the knowledge of humanity about the nature of latent syphilis and about the political and social interactions. This issue reveals the difference between morals (individual and cultural relativism) and ethics. In this regard, the relativism of racial/ethnic issues is that, to a certain degree, it serves for conserving the authenticity of a nation. The national awareness itself presumes that a certain group of people understands their biological and socio-cultural diversity and defines other human beings as either compatriots or strangers on the basis of the same features. 

Nevertheless, in order to avoid crossing the vague line between the national identity and racism, one should apply principles of respect for individuals and beneficence while treating representatives of other races and ethnicities. These concepts were violated in both cases. Consider the example, Changnon described the tribes in South America as fierce and violent, and these notions were relative. In fact, one may observe the diversity in approaches towards the conflict resolution in these tribes and the U.S. society. Therefore, it is improper to use the aforementioned definitions for describing its findings. The outcome of the poor cultural sensitivity is the public reproach, which encourages adhering to human ethics in research and avoiding acts of the racial/ethnic discrimination both in the research design and description. 

In comparison, the case of untreated syphilis is even a more vivid example of neglected ethical standards. Specifically, lives of the sample population were put in danger. Furthermore, this process had lasted for decades, and anybody decided neither to stop it nor to make the recruitment of participants more informed, conscious, and, thus, ethical. 

To make matters worse, it remains unknown how many other citizens of the area have suffered from the untreated disease during the process of study. Given a considerable harm of the discussed experiment, it is natural to suggest that its authors violated the principle of non-malevolence. This principle is an element of beneficence; simultaneously, it is the most important ethical consideration that must be taken into account during research. While Changnon neglected the ethics of beneficence in terms of not providing any advantages to the studied tribes, the scholars of Tuskegee University caused much harm to the studied community. Therefore, one may rightfully conclude that the studies on untreated syphilis were much more unethical than Yanomami research was. 

Moreover, the lack of respect can be detected right in the name of the study--Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. It suggests the idea that black people are biologically different; therefore, their immune system may respond to infections in another way. The mere acknowledgment of diversity would not be offensive if it was not supported by a set of lethal experiments that involved exclusively black people. Thus, the principle of justice is also violated in this study. In general, the Tuskegee Study resulted in a much stronger resentment in terms of violated ethics. 

While continuing to analyze the differences and similarities of ethical/non-ethical strategies, it is necessary to stress that both Changnon and Tuskegee University are similar in terms of ethical egoism that caused the violation of ethical considerations discussed above. For example, by neglecting the cross-cultural approach, Changnon distorted and overestimated the violence of the studied tribes. This presentation of results was favorable for the scholar because it made his research more fascinating. Thus, it is an example of the ethical egoism as the personal gain was given priority. Similarly, ethical egoism of Tuskegee University is that the authors realized the harmful effects, but did nothing to inform the sample population, alter conditions of the experiment, or stop it at all. In other words, the obtained benefits for scholars were stronger than the one for other involved parties. Ethical egoism caused a lot of reproach towards the researchers in both cases when the unethical implications were revealed. 

When identifying the strategies that were utilized for ensuring ethical standards of research, one may point out that Changnon did not use any measures. Meanwhile, Tuskegee scientists provided arbitrary information to the sample group. Changnon did not consider his observation and description unethical; therefore, no strategies were used by him at all. Instead, he could have made some improvements in the tribes’ well-being by obtaining more first-hand information in return and ensuring that the principles of positivism and respect for people were fulfilled. Furthermore, in terms of presenting the obtained findings, Changnon should have emphasized that the observed degree of aggression had developed under peculiar conditions of the tribes’ life-style. Thus, it was relevant and appropriate for those communities. Besides, the use of euphemisms could have made the description more positive. 

In contrast, Tuskegee scientists realized the danger they inflicted on the sample group. Therefore, they applied the diffusion of responsibility by partially informing the black people about the seriousness of their health conditions and the great likelihood of mortality. Nevertheless, they had to state the purpose of research, the name of the illness, consequences for the sample and their dear ones, preventive measures that might have reduced the negative outcomes, alternative methods of treatment, and possibility to quit the experiment anytime, for example. Nevertheless, Tuskegee scientists assumed that the truth could have frightened away a part of a sample population. Despite the fact that it was the most probable outcome, researchers had to ensure ethical standards by providing complete information to participants. In this case, the amount of sample might have been smaller, but the study would be conducted in the ethical framework. Moreover, the plausibility of causing harm to humans’ health by inaction should have been eliminated. It could have been done by offering the penicillin treatment when it became available. 

Ethical Egoism in a Digital World

The Tuskegee Study on untreated syphilis caused such a strong public resonance that the scholars had to review and advance their approaches towards maintaining human ethics during surveys. Nonetheless, the examples of ethical egoism in social researches remain a topical issue in the modern world. Consider an example, a social network, Facebook, is utilized in social research, and the private data of its users are used without their permission. What makes the things even worse is that some researchers try to manipulate the moods of users by tuning the level of happiness and distress in the released content. They compare the general mood and message of a day to the changes in personal statuses of users. The results of this experiment asserted that the mood of the masses could be controlled and shaped. Even though the authors claimed such a possibility was rather limited, the study revealed certain positive results. 

In this case, ethical egoism is in concealing the plausible dangerous outcomes and omitting informing the users that they were a part of an experiment, as well as its purpose and conditions, for example. The company rejects these accusations pointing to the publicly available policy statements, which inform that  we may use the information we receive about you [...] for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement we may make friend suggestions, pick stories for your News Feed or suggest people to tag in photos.

Scholars suggest that this level of informing is insufficient since nothing is told about ‘we may put you in depression to verify your reaction’. As one may observe, this example of violated ethics suggests that the arbitrary informing remains a serious problem in the modern scientific world. Besides, this case of ethical egoism violates the principle of the respect for human beings and beneficence, in particular, non-malevolence. This insight implies a strong interdependence between ethical egoism and violated human ethics. 

Summing up the information mentioned above, one should emphasize that the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male and Yanomami: The Fierce People are research projects that gained popularity as the cases of neglected ethical standards in scientific research. The main involved ethical considerations are racism and the absence of a cross-cultural perspective. Moreover, ethical principles of the respect for people, beneficence, and justice were neglected by authors. Besides, these cases demonstrate ethical egoism, which presumes giving priority to personal interests. Despite having many similarities, these studies are different in terms of the amount of the caused harm. In particular, the study on untreated syphilis is much more unethical because it violates the core principle of non-malevolence.

Besides, whereas, Changnon, the author of the Yanomami study, did not use any strategies to ensure ethical standards of research, Tuskegee associates apply to arbitrary informing about the nature and plausible consequences of research and provide minimal compensation. Both cases evoke political tension that was fueled on the basis of the racial/ethnic discrimination and insufficient strategies of ensuring ethical standards of research. Despite the fact that scientists were obligated to adhere to research ethics, the acts of misconducts still occur in the modern world. The recent example of ethical egoism of the Facebook social experiment was reviewed in this paper with the purpose to stress the importance of the further improvements in the research codes of conduct. Specifically, Institutional Review Boards should take into consideration new technological perspectives of both surveys and ethical violations. 


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