Experimenting on orphans

There's a fantastic long read up at Aeon Magazine about the science of child development and the ethics of running scientific experiments on vulnerable populations. Virginia Hughes goes to Romania to follow a long-term study comparing children placed in orphanages with children placed in foster homes. The catch: Scientists already know that foster homes are better for kids than institutions. But that fact isn't well-known or accepted in Romania. So scientists had to ask — is it ethical to run an experiment involving kids when you already know the answer if there's a chance that it might help other kids in the future?

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  1. The Canadian case is an atrocity because the Federal authorities has, well, the authority to intervene.

    That is not the case in Romania, though. And it makes me wonder if it would be ethical NOT to study the ongoing tragedy being inflicted on Romanian orphans.

  2. I'd have to come down on the side of 'ethical' (though, obviously, "we want to do some research on a child population that relatively few people care about!" science should probably face additional scrutiny, as a genre); because, from the perspective of the research group's ability to change anything, they are really just observing a natural experiment, not arranging one themselves.

    Not really any different from an epidemiologist or toxicologist studying employees of ACME Toxin Smelter in order to determine the effects of some flavor of chemical exposure on human health. It'd be crazy unethical to do direct studies by exposing people to the compound.

    It isn't as though they could make the situation more ethical by looking away and ignoring it, nor less ethical by keeping detailed records.

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