Monday, April 16, 2012

“First, Do No Harm”

While pondering over how the Hippocratic oath would apply to research in SIE, I thought about the responsibility of designers to create spaces that no only safeguard the survival needs of the users (both physiological and physical safety) but also meet their needs of comfort, cultural identity, creativity etc… I thought that there was even more to it: What about the nurturing and restorative aspect of our design? Healthy buildings can be wonderfully comforting and lead to creating an emotional climate in which people can flourish and express their identity freely. 

Similarly when proceeding with experimental studies for design research, we owe our subjects to not judge them and respect their cultural differences and identity. in a nutshell, our experiments should be designed around concerns for the dignity and welfare of the participants.  Subjects should not only feel respected but also accepted for who they are and know how significant their testimony is for the experiment. As Nora mentioned in class, “refusal is data”.  Meaning, we must be open to and take into account our participants rights (and maybe duty) to refuse to go further in the experiment.    

When taking the subway I often think of a study Nora mentioned in class last semester: students (who were actually not the subjects of experiment that I know of) were asked by their professor to go up to strangers in the subway and to ask them to give up their sit for no reason whatsoever; the study found out that once in the field, the students could not get themselves to do it. They could not ask someone to just get up and give up their seat.  Their ethics is what stopped them from doing the experiment. Identically the meaning of this refusal, just like the controversial Milgram’s study on obedience to authority, is very relevant in regards to ethics in research;  results were certainly disturbing - our ability to obey authoritative figures or actually inability to say no to “orders” – but what was for me mostly disconcerting was the stress under which the participants were put. 

We don't want our participants to tell us what we want to hear and certainly not obey commands; with that in mind, we must remember to conduct our survey with full awareness that we must remain unbiased and praise our participant’s performance and remind them hat they are free to take responsibility for their action. 

On this last note, I think we (as class) are on good track: When we decline filling out a form that aims to grade one another, we fully know we are "disobeying” the board of education system.  Yet, for some of us, we feel we have to follow our codes and ethics: "First do no harm"; because we support one another to achieve the best of our capacity, we don't need to judge and rank each other. And that's ethics as well. 

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