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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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From the Pages of The Journal of Unethical Research
Yesterday's news about Volkswagen conducting experiments on various primates that involved them breathing toxic fumes, has drawn down plenty of ire upon the company. However, it's an ill wind, to coin a phrase, and it's a good opportunity compare the different kinds of outrage. Are we more shocked by the use of monkeys (who could not consent) or by the humans (because "paragon of animals", etc.)?

The BBC gave them ore or less equal billing on their website:

humans and monkeys2

But the metadata tell a different story, suggesting that the monkeys were an afterthought:

humans and monkeys

The Independent, by contrast, puts the monkeys front and centre, with humans relegated to an afterthought a couple of paragraphs in:

humans and monkeys independent

The Guardian and The Mail don't mention the poor old humans at all! Nor do a lot of people, though I won't clutter up your friends page by proving it.

humans and monkeys guardianhumans and monkeys mail

All in all, the monkeys have it, and the BBC is, as it turns out, an outlier, despite their hasty attempt to catch up. And what do we conclude from all this? That we are nation of animal lovers? That the humans' consent absolves the experimenters of responsibility? That monkeys sell papers?

Or simply that I still haven't quite finished my marking?

The question that pops in my head is how informed that human consent really was? I assume things like these require extensive paperwork and risk disclosure but I am not sure. I would like to know more about it.

Edited at 2018-01-30 03:07 pm (UTC)

If the "volunteers" were desperate for cash, that may also be a factor. "My poverty, but not my will, consents," as Shakespeare put it.

Or if all those risks were disclosed in some small print in a format that many people would not be able to understand due to their educational background and signed it like we sign a lot of stuff with small print this days without reading it ("It is OK, everyone is signing it and it is a respectable company so it is probably OK"). Were there adequate procedures in place to make absolutely sure that the volunteers were not only given to read about those ricks but did actually understand them? For example, I structured complex hedging and yield enhancement trades for clients and we had extensive procedures to make sure that the clients do not only sign but actually have the ability and do understand all the risks involved. If our due diligence showed any evidence that the prospective client was not sophisticated enough to understand all the risks (say some large palm oil plantation company in Indonesia which still has only pretty basic risk management practices in place), we had to document it and many trades got rejected by compliance even though my desk would have made a lot of money on them.

Edited at 2018-01-30 03:18 pm (UTC)