Why would a code of ethics be important for social scientists?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The reason for this is that social scientists work with human beings as the subjects of their studies.  Whenever human beings are the subject of a study, it is important to have ethical standards in place.

For example, let us imagine that a social scientist wants to study the sociology of people engaging in prostitution or patronizing prostitutes.  The social scientist could, in the process of the study, bring harm to the people being studied.  The researcher could publicize the identities of the people in the study, causing them anguish in their personal lives.

As another example, a psychologist might study the impact of childhood obesity on people's self image.  Such a researcher might ask obese children all sorts of questions about how they feel.  This might cause them to become very self-conscious about their weight and impair their quality of life.

Because of dangers such as these, it is important for social scientists to have a code of ethics that guides their research.

A code of ethics would be important for social scientists in particular because social scientists of various sorts are sometimes doing research on human beings.  At times, the research can potentially be rather traumatic.  If there were no codes of ethics, the research could be even more so and could even cross the line into things that are simply immoral.  Let us look at three potential examples.

First, let us look at two experiments that were of dubious ethicality.  First, there was Milgram’s famous obedience experiment in which he had experimental subjects believing that they were administering painful electric shocks to other people.  Making people think they are hurting others (and pushing them to continue) can traumatize them.  Second, there was the experiment done by Jane Elliott in which she separated her first grade students by eye color and discriminated against one group.  This, too, could be traumatic.

Second, let us look at experiments that would surely be immoral.  For example, imagine taking children in orphanages and intentionally raising them differently.  Imagine giving some of them a loving household and intentionally inflicting emotional cruelty on others just to see how they would react.  Or imagine taking a child and raising it without human contact, simply placing food and water where it could find it and caring for it (for example, by tranquilizing it and then treating it) when ill.  These might be very fascinating, but they would surely be immoral.

Without a code of ethics, social scientists might do things like these.  That is why such a code is needed.