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One can trace the development of contemporary ethics back to the Vienna Circle and its associated philosophers, researchers and theorists attempt to demarcate science from pseudo-science (Wlash, Teo & Baydala, 2014). It was at this point that theorists defined what aspects of reality were worthy of studying, and thus defining the very course of alleged scientific progress (Wlash, Teo & Baydala, 2014). It should also be noted that early research being carried out in human participants involved deliberate violation of ethics conduct (Mandal, Acharya & Parija, 2011). For instance, in 1946 the American tribunal brought leading German physicians to justice due gross negligence of ethics and crimes against humanity. More specifically, these physicians were being tried mainly due to conducting medical experiments on thousands of concentration camp prisoners without their consent. As a result of such experiments most prisoners would either be permanently disabled or would die (Mandal, Acharya & Parija, 2011). It should be evident that much of such atrocities were carried out in the name of scientific progress, which seems to be the usual argument for changes and negligence in ethics.

When it comes to examining epistemological and ontological stand point of scientific underpinnings of mainstream psychology it should be evident that many constructs emerging through psychological research have not withstood the test of time. For example psychological 'problems' such as Gender Identity Disorder have been treated as an objective fact, and treatment for such condition had quite often involve electroconvulsive therapy For instance when examining abnormal behaviour one must take into account what are the culturally and historically dominant notions of normality and 'normal' behaviour. In every time in history socially acceptable forms of behaviour are bound to change. In other words, notions of 'normality' are very subjective, culturally specific, and contingent upon socio-economic and historical factors. In this way, the objectification of normal behaviour, and the subsequent objectification of abnormality is by no means trivial. It follows that one of the problems with the scientific method is the fact that its popular hypothesis testing paradigm has some flaws. Quite often researchers naively assume that a significant relationship between two variables implies causality. In most cases, even if there is an association between two variables, the direction of causality may not always be evident (Shadish, Cook & Campbell, 2002).

Additionally, an association between two variables may not even imply a causal relationship. This is particularly due to the fact that there are a myriad of variables co-occurring when individuals are situated in their normal day-to-day environmental settings studies (Shadish, Cook & Campbell, 2002). Most of these variables cannot be completely controlled under experimental settings, and laboratories do not reflect real life situations. Thus, it should be noted that the statistically significant p value may not always represent the likelihood of an event repeating itself, but instead it can be an indication of the likelihood of obtaining the specific sample used in a given study. In general, there are broad issues concerning validity, replicability, and generalisability of most psychological studies (Shadish, Cook & Campbell, 2002). In this respect, it one should notice that even among the most robust neuroimaging methods such as functional resonance imaging (fMRI) one can find an array of literature about brain activation artefacts (Peeters & Sunaert, 2015). A good example of this is fMRI activation found on a dead fish which has been famously coined the "zombie fish" (Bennett, Miller, & Wolford, 2009). Therefore, one must conclude that a scientific approach to psychology is just another discourse or particular version of the truth, and not necessarily the absolute truth. It is the failure of acknowledging this fact which has led to several ethical and moral issues in psychological research, theory and practice.

It has been argued that psychological research cannot be value free given that researchers impinge their own values upon the research process (Norman, 2013). In addition, the very fact that, for instance the UK Government drafts the mental health bill together with the British Psychological Society further suggests that there are real socio-political implications of psychological research. More specifically, the dynamics between research and politics can result in limiting educational and career opportunities for individuals who have been given a diagnostic label. However, one should not deny the physicality of symptoms attached to such labels, as there are very tangible. It only becomes problematic when psychologist disregard wider social factors which are also implicated in the aetiology of such diagnostic labels

There is dimension to reality which is not objectively measurable, and this is true even in 'hard' sciences such as physics (Bohm, 2002). For instance, under experimental conditions subatomic particles behave either as particles or as waves. In this respect, it has been found that the shift from wave to particle and vice-versa is mediated by the observer. More specifically, when one is observing it, matter behaves as a particle, and when one is not looking at it behaves as waves (Bohm, 2002). From this vantage point one must conclude that subjective experience is just a worthy of studying as it is objective experience. This is a very important point given that it challenges the very ontological and epistemological foundations of the scientific method as well as its justifications for changes in ethics in the name of 'progress'. In this way, moral and ethical issues have inevitably arisen in the past when mainstreams psychologists have individualised social problems.

It could be argued that so called mental health 'disorders' could in fact be a normal reaction to intolerable and inhumane socio-economic circumstances. For instance, disorders such as Schizophrenia have not been consistently diagnosed across the globe (Boyle, 2002). Much incoherence and inconsistency still surrounds schizophrenia related research (Boyle, 2004). In addition, virtually every chemical and brain region has been implicated in its aetiology (Bentall, 2003). In this way, it is important that one approaches changes in ethics in the name of scientific progress with much reticence and academic scrutiny.


In conclusion, it should be evident that one of the main reasons why many ethics fallacies and flaws of throughout history arose from the fact that mainstream psychological research maintained the ideological position that it is a value-free and objective endeavour. Contrary to what it advocates, one has witnessed throughout history sets of theories and research being replaced as such knowledge is disproved as conducting research on humans subjects is by no means trivial given that humans attach subjective meaning to things, other people and situations. This makes the outcome of the research process very unpredictable. In this way, one should note that much of changes and development of ethics in Psychology where grounded in the argument that such changes are inevitable in order to avoid hindering scientific progress. In this way, one must conclude that so long as mainstream psychological discourses concerning individuals' mental health remain hidden and inexplicit, its scientific credibility and ethical and moral underpinnings will remain questionable.


Wlash, R.T.G, Teo, T. & Baydala, A. (2014). A Critical History and Philosophy of Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Bennett, C. M., Miller, M. B., & Wolford, G. L. (2009). Neural correlates of interspecies perspective taking in the post-mortem Atlantic Salmon: An argument for multiple comparisons correction. Neuroimage, 47(1), p.125.

Norman, J. (2013) For how long can Psychology maintain its 'scientific' status? Journal of Social & Psychological Sciences. 6, (1), 1-10.

Bohm, D. (2002) Wholeness and Implicate Order. London: Routledge

William R. Shadish, Cook, T. D., & Campbell, D. T. (2002). Experimental and quasi-experimental designs for generalized causal inference. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning.

Peeters, R., & Sunaert, S. (2015). Clinical BOLD fMRI and DTI: Artifacts, Tips, and Tricks. In Clinical Functional MRI (pp. 313-336). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Mandal, J., Acharya, S., & Parija, S. C. (2011). Ethics in human research. Tropical Parasitology, 1(1), pp.2-3.

Boyle, M. (2002) Schizophrenia: A Scientific Delusion? London: Routledge

Boyle, M. (2004) 'Schizophrenia' and Genetics: Does critical thought stop here? The Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy. Vol. 4 (2) 78-85
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Author:Lawson, Ian
Publication:Journal of Social and Psychological Sciences
Article Type:Report
Date:Jan 1, 2018

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