Dark Matters: An archive of research ethics mistakes

December 20, 2013

Stories discussed in Dark Matters could prove useful when teaching about research ethics

I discovered recently that the Discovery Science channel has an interesting little series called Dark Matters: Twisted but true. Started in 2011, to date there have been two series of the show. Typically each 45 minute episode looks at three separate examples of “strange science”. The standard format for each tale includes historical reenactment and soundbite interviews with experts from the field.

In truth the choice of incidents discussed is patchy; some aligning poorly with the definition of “science”, or “strange”, or both. The subtitle “Twisted but true” gives insight into the audience for whom the series may be targeted.¬† We also need to be slightly cautious about putting too much reliance on the validity of docudrama versions of events.

Having said that, however, there are plenty of examples here which could be used as introductions to some of the more notorious breaches of research ethics. For example, Season 2 Episode 2 (TRILT 02F8C452) discusses Louis Pasteur’s testing of an experimental rabies vaccine on Joseph Meister. Episode 2.6 (TRILT¬†02FB2D0F) includes recreation of the notorious Stanford prison experiment, and 2.7 (TRILT 02FD7B36) discusses the Tuskegee syphilis experiment in which poor sharecroppers with syphilis were deliberately kept untreated, even after the efficacy of penicillin for treating the illness had been demonstrated.