One of my students raised a really good question in class today, a question to which I do not know the answer — but maybe you do.
We were discussing some of the Very Bad Experiments* that prompted current thinking** about what it is and is not ethically permissible to do with human subjects of scientific research. We had noted that institutions like our university have an Institutional Review Board (IRB) that must approve your protocol before you can conduct research with human subjects. At this point, my student asked:
Are there cases where researchers send protocols to the IRB that are clearly unethical — not just a little unethical in the gray areas, but way on the satisfying-scientific-curiosity-with-no-benefit-to-society-and-great-risk-of-harm-to-the-subjects side of the line?
And if so, does anything happen to them beyond their protocols being rejected? In other words, do they get to pine for the satifaction of their scientific curiosity without some kind of intervention in which members of their scientific community sit them down and explain how wrong their clearly unethical protocols are?
Please, don’t violate any confidentiality oath in answering these questions. But, do you have experience of any scientists sufficiently disconnected from the current norms on research with human subjects that they have openly revealed their longings for the “good old days”?
*For example, the Nazi medical experiments and the Tuskegee syphilis experiment.
**Current thinking, for our purposes, follows a trajectory from the Nuremburg Code to the Declaration of Helsinki to the Belmont Report.