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GC Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment Ethics in Sociological Research



1. What are some of the ethical issues surrounding:

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places, conducted by Sociologists, Laud Humphreys

Must include at least 2 specific examples for each case and explain why they are ethical issues.


Here is the documents to use for info.

Research Methods

Sociological research aims to produce bias-free knowledge. This can be done by using the scientific research method or by taking an interpretative framework approach.

Some of the research methods used include (refer to textbook, chapter 2, for more information on each method):



Secondary data analysis

Field research

Participant observation


Case Studies

All research methods have their advantages and disadvantages and researchers also select a method based on the topic under study and the researcher’s preference.

Of particular concern when conducting research that involves prolonged contact with other people is the ability to produce objective research. And, of researchers “going native.”

“Going native” (Links to an external site.) refers to the act of researcher loosing objectivity as a result of becoming too attached or sympathetic to the population under study.

Sociologist, Victor Rios, who studied young men in Oakland, CA who were gang-affiliated, was cautioned about “going native” as he was studying young men. What are the reasons Rios was cautioned about “going native” or maintaining “value neutrality”?

Read about Sociologists Victor Rios: A Sociologist Returns to the Mean Streets of His Youth. (Links to an external site.)


Based on Rios’ background and research, do you think people can study communities they identify with without “going native” or maintaining “value neutrality”?

Quantitative and Qualitative Research

Sociological research can also be categorized under two main categories, depending on the research method used: quantitative and qualitative. Research may also include a combination of quantitative and qualitative data.

These are some of the distinguishing characteristics of quantitative vs. qualitative research:

Quantitative Research

Sampling: Random/representative

Record Data: Quantify data or observations

Data Analysis: Statistical analysis

Theory: Guides or establishes rationale for research

Qualitative Research

Sampling: Purposeful

Record Data: Detailed descriptions (but make sure notes may not have easily identifiable information. For example, create codes for people rather than using their names)

Data Analysis: Attention to role social and cultural context plays in research

Theory: Develops from research

Studying Low-Wage Workers

If you study low-wage workers by taking a quantitative approach, you may learn about the percentage of people who work in low-wage jobs, the average pay for these workers, the demographic characteristics of these workers, etc.

Check out UC Berkeley Labor Center (Links to an external site.); it provides extensive quantitative research on low-wage workers in California.

If you study low-wage workers by taking a qualitative approach you may learn about how these workers manage their day-to-day life, what it is like to work in a low-wage job, etc.

Barbara Ehrenreich’s conducted a qualitative study on low-wage workers and published her findings in a book titled, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.


Lecture: Ethical Issues in Research Studies

In sociology, like on other fields where people are used as subjects of study, ethical concerns arise.

Today, human subjects used in research are protected. These protections are outlined in the Belmont Report of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. The Belmont Report was first published in 1978. (Links to an external site.)

The Belmont Report was created due to issues of unethical research practices in previous research involving human subjects.

Below are a list of studies that prompted ethical concerns and the need to protect human research participants:

Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (1932-1972) (Links to an external site.)


Milgram’s Obedience Experiment (1961) (Links to an external site.)



earoom Trade: Impersonal sex in public spaces (1970)

j https://www.lehmiller.com/blog/2012/10/3/tearoom-t…

Stanford Prison Experiment (197Key Principles when Conducting Research

l https://www.simplypsychology.org/zimbardo.html

Some of the key principles when conducting research that involve human participants are:

Obtain Consent (when feasible/think about the Hawthorne effect)

Protect from Harm

Ensure Privacy


These key principles were born out of many of the studies that engaged in unethical research practices. Ethical issues arise when ethical codes are not followed or practiced by researchers.

While ethical issues in sociological research may not be as severe as in medical research (e.g. Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment), it still still very important to conduct research in an ethical manner. And, it is important to uphold the ethical standards of research.

The Brajuha Case: Protecting Privacy of Research Participants

When sociologists conduct qualitative research, they must take extensive and detailed notes of theirs observations. These notes, however, can be subpoena by a judge if a legal case merits it. Due to this potential risk, it is important that the researcher does not include easily identifiable information, such as names.

Mario Brajuha, a sociology graduate student conducting participant observation at a restaurant in New York, was ordered by a judge to turn over his notes when the restaurant burned down and police suspected arson. Brajuha refused to turn over his notes due to his ethical pledge to confidentiality. As a result, he was threatened with imprisonment. He had to fight a legal battle for two years. Brajuha went to great lengths to protect the privacy of this participants.


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