data ethics

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Can Science Ethically Make Use Of Data Which Was Gathered By Unethical Means?

This essay was the runner up in the undergraduate category of the 6th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics

Written by University of Oxford student Toby Lowther

In this paper, I discuss the question of whether science can ethically make use of data which has been gathered by unethical means in seeking scientific and medical advances to alleviate future suffering. This is an ever-controversial issue of practical ethics, and although the American Medical Assosciation provides firm guidelines on the matter (AMA, 1995), the ethical question remains complex. I will begin by laying out the core issue: the conflict between the desire to censure unethical practices used in gathering such data and the desire to use all data available to bring about the greatest good for society. I will present arguments either side, leading to an ethical stalemate, before presenting how issues of practical consideration for scientific methodology resolve the conflict. I conclude that science cannot make use of data gathered by unethical means, because such data cannot ethically be replicated, and reproducibility is necessary for the validity of the scientific method. I leave open the question of whether it is ethical for the findings of such unethical experiments to guide future, ethical research. Continue reading


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