The End’s Justify the Means? A few thoughts on deception in research.

After reading an article by the WSJ that came across my LinkedIn newsfeed (http://online.wsj.com/articles/the-role-of-deception-in-scientific-research-1409009297#livefyre-comment) I started thinking about deception in research.

Can deception ever be ethically justified in research? Isn’t that showing the end’s justify the means? I was always taught, not through formal study of ethics, that the end’s never justify the means. Is that old adage wrong when it comes to research ethics?

I don’t think so.

Perhaps the negative act of deception always trumps the gains. Deception does after all leave a bad impression on those on the receiving end. Doesn’t it erode trust in scientists as benevolent researchers and science in general?

We currently allow deception when it is low risk research and if there are no other ways to conduct the research. To that I say perhaps the research itself is low risk, but the risk of ruining trust in research after deception has occurred is actually high. Second, perhaps if the research cannot be done by any other means then it ought not be done at all.

Seems to me that by allowing deception we are going about research ethics willy-nilly. Deception is wrong outside of research, why allow it within research?

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