Chapter Three: Ethics in social work research

Would it surprise you learn that scientists who conduct research may withhold effective treatments from individuals with diseases? Perhaps it wouldn’t surprise you, since you may have heard of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, in which treatments for syphilis were knowingly withheld from African-American participants for decades. Would it surprise you to learn that the practice of withholding treatment continues today? Multiple studies in the developing world continue to use placebo control groups in testing for cancer screenings, cancer treatments, and HIV treatments (Joffe & Miller, 2014). [1] What standards would you use to judge withholding treatment as ethical or unethical? Most importantly, how can you make sure that your study respects the human rights of your participants?

Chapter Outline

  • 3.1 Research on humans
  • 3.2 Specific ethical issues to consider
  • 3.3 Ethics at micro, meso, and macro levels
  • 3.4 The practice of science versus the uses of science

Content Advisory

This chapter discusses or mentions the following topics: unethical research that has occurred in the past against marginalized groups in America and during the Holocaust.

  1. Joffe, S., & Miller, F. G. (2014). Ethics of cancer clinical trials in low-resource settings. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 32(28), 3192-3196.


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Foundations of Social Work Research Copyright © 2020 by Rebecca L. Mauldin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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