I am a student in the department of Mechanical Engineering and my research is focused on acoustics. For this post I chose to look at the ethics that the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) publishes on their website. The ethical principles that are published by the ASA can be found here: Ethical Principles of the Acoustical Society of America.
The first and most extensive section of the ethical principles that the ASA presents is focused on the ethics of research involving human and non-human vertebrates. They provide clear and detailed guidelines for the methods to handle protected subjects in research. I am very glad to see the provided guidelines. It is important that researchers carefully consider how they design experiments and how the subjects will be affected by those designs. It also made me reflect on the New York Times article that was included in this module, When Torture Becomes Science. I believe that as researches and as compassionate human beings we should consider the effects of our research on our subjects. This is not only during the design of our experiments, but throughout the experimental process. If we feel that subjects are being harmed or sense a violation of the ethical codes, we must immediately stop and reevaluate. I think that reading though the ASA’s ethical principles is a great way to evaluate the aspects of a research study that effect experimental subjects. I do not think, however, that these principles are all inclusive. Researchers must continually ask themselves if the experimental design violates the safety or well-being of their subjects.
One of the things that bothered me about the ethical principles is that it limits the scope to humans and non-human vertebrates. I believe these same ethical principles should be applied to all research animals. I think it is a classic mistake to consider invertebrate animals as lesser because of something as arbitrary as a not having a spine. Cephalopods, for example, can exhibit surprising intelligence. Imagine a case in which research is being performed on an octopus or a cuttlefish, two of the most intelligent cephalopods. Shouldn’t the researchers be expected to consider how their experiment could harm these animals? It seems logical to me that these animals deserve the same consideration as the vertebrates that are covered in the ASA’s ethical principles.
This leads to another intriguing consideration: does the intelligence of the animal subject matter at all when considering the ethical obligations of the research? I am honestly not sure of my opinion regarding this question. My initial reaction is no, there shouldn’t be any difference between the way we treat animals in research no matter what we grade their intelligence level as. On further reflection however, I think there might be some more extensive considerations that researchers should take into account when dealing with smarter, more aware animals. Thus, I believe that more careful experimental design should be taken with consideration to intelligence as opposed to the presence of a spine.