Mad science: What could it teach us?
At an interesting talk today, I found out that behavioral economists cannot use any form of deception in their experiments. I found this norm somewhat puzzling, because psychologists often include mild deception (like confederates) that cause no harm to the subjects but offer new research opportunities. At previous talk, I heard a researcher say that it would be unethical to offer variable compensation to survey respondents in order to help reduce non-response bias.
These two examples are from a broader class of what I call “mad science”: potentially unethical but otherwise scientifically valid research techniques. My mind wandered to an interesting but scary topic: what is the most valuable lesson we could learn from mad science?
I immediately thought of medicine. There are many tests of efficacy of treatments and even answers to certain basic biological questions that could result in dramatic improvements in the human condition for centuries, but are entirely unacceptable because of the potential harm (and even death) to individual subjects. I then thought about military research. Sometimes the virtual reality and other technology research in my communication department is deemed “creepy” but it’s not unethical.
Dear readers, do any of you have any ideas of potentially valuable but unethical research? I would be especially interested in social science examples. Or perhaps mad science is an idea that just best to be avoided.