Any student wondering why ethics compliance is so strict need only look at one of the most infamous experiments ever undertaken to understand where the issues might arise.
For decades following World War II, the world was left wondering how the atrocities of the Holocaust could have been perpetrated in the midst of—and, most horrifically, by—a modern and civilized society. How did people come to engage in a willing and systematic extermination of their neighbors? Psychologists, whose field had grown into a grudgingly respected science by the midpoint of the 20th century, were eager to tackle the question.
In 1961, Yale University’s Stanley Milgram began a series of infamous obedience experiments. While Adolf Eichmann’s trial was underway in Jerusalem (resulting in Hannah Arendt’s five-piece reportage, which became one of The New Yorker magazine’s most dramatic and controversial article series), Milgram began to suspect that human nature was more straightforward than earlier theorists had imagined; he wondered, as he later wrote, “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?”