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Position Statement on Research Ethics

January 11, 2009

For Immediate Release [first published on January 11, 2009]

The League to Fight Neurelitism, as a public sociology project, cares deeply about ethical issues in social research. We are also mindful of the distinctions between ethics and policy positions. As such, we believe it is possible to act on good faith, on the basis of shared values, and to build coalitions notwithstanding policy differences in certain negotiable, or even nonnegotiable, areas.

If trained, competent researchers, academics, and professionals disagree on an issue concerning ethical application, the discussion revolves around evaluation, not fact. Furthermore, with respect to practical implementations of ethics, there are, occasionally, quite substantial disagreements within numerous scientific communities.

Research ethics regarding informed consent of human subjects really originated in response to Stanley Milgram’s 1950s and 1960s demonstration experiments on authoritarianism and later studies. Subsequently, many organizations have formulated ethical guidelines. The code of ethics produced by the American Sociological Association is fairly representative. Here is a brief excerpt:

Sociologists are honest, fair, and respectful of others in their professional activities—in research, teaching, practice, and service. Sociologists do not knowingly act in ways that jeopardize either their own or others’ professional welfare. Sociologists conduct their affairs in ways that inspire trust and confidence; they do not knowingly make statements that are false, misleading, or deceptive.

The principles are general (even vague in some instances). The expectation is that sociologists, as professionals with advanced educations, will behave responsibly. Situations which may violate those socially constructed ethical standards are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

While professional codes of ethics, those from fields which recruit human beings, require researchers not to harm their subjects or participants, exactly what constitutes harm is not always in evidence. Presumably, no one involved with autistic activism wants to see autistics harmed, but that does not mean they will always agree on particular policies.

Respectfully submitted,

Mark A. Foster, Ph.D.
Founding Director,
The League to Fight Neurelitism



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