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Which of These is True? Validity and Ethics in Scientific Experimentation

Co Authors:

Fred B. Schnee
Department of Biology
Loras College

Andrea Bixler
Biology Department
Clarke University


Many biology courses are designed to develop student understanding and application of the scientific method, but few seriously examine the various ethical questions associated with scientific research. This interdisciplinary case study presents three experiments and asks not only if they are scientifically valid but whether they were ethically performed.  The experiments examine the psychology of love, a cause of breast cancer, and how the immune system functions in the presence of cancer. Based on their opinions of the validity and ethics of each experiment, students are asked to conclude which of the experiments were actually conducted by scientists and which are fictional. Students should already be familiar with the scientific method, but information on the Georgetown Mantra and Nuremberg Code is included. The case could be modified for use in non-majors and majors classes.  The format of the case challenges students of any background to use information from both science and ethics to see how the differing approaches of the scientist and the ethicist can complement and strengthen each other.

  • Become more familiar with the scientific method, especially testable and falsifiable hypotheses and experimental design adequate for testing the hypotheses.
  • Become familiar with and effectively use the Georgetown Mantra and Nuremberg Code to evaluate ethical research practices.
  • Practice integrating concepts from different fields (biology and ethics) in order to make a decision.
Keywords: Falsifiable; testable; Georgetown Mantra; principlism; Nuremberg Code; bluff; research ethics; IRB; nonmaleficence; beneficence; autonomy; justice
Topical Area: Ethics, Scientific method
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Discussion
Language: English
Subject Headings: Biology (General)   Science (General)  
Date Posted: 9/17/2015
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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