4.6 Exercises

Exercise 4.1 Consider this (real) conundrum facing researchers (Crozier and Schulte-Hostedde 2015):

A research team has an extraordinarily successful long-term study of a population of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) on Ram Mountain […]

The population contains marked individuals for which the research team has incredibly detailed data on phenotype, pedigree, and life-history. Many graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and senior scientists have studied this population, and this research has lead to numerous important publications.

Recently, however, a cougar (Puma concolor) that has learned to specialize on these sheep is slowly but surely eating all of them. This is a study of a natural population, which includes predation, but this cougar is drastically reducing the sample size of the study.

Since it is legal to hunt cougars in the region where this study is taking place, one option is to try to kill the predator; however, even if a cougar were successfully hunted, this would not ensure that it was the correct one.

What action would you recommend? Explain your reasoning, including from an ethics point-of-view.
Exercise 4.2 Suppose a deadly disease breaks out. Is it ethical to begin the use of a new drug to treat those affected, even though the drug is still experimental and the potentially harmful side effects are unknown? Discuss your point-of-view.

Exercise 4.3 Is it ethical to lie to the subjects in a study? Deception is common in some disciplines, and may be approved by ethics committees under certain circumstances (such as the potential benefits of the study, and whether the deception is likely to cause physical or psychological discomfort to the participants).

Do you think it is ethical to tell participants that they are taking an active medication, when it is actually ineffective (a ‘placebo’) (Waber et al. 2008)? Discuss the advantages and disadvantages, including what we can learn from such a study that may be beneficial.


Crozier GKD, Schulte-Hostedde AI. Towards improving the ethics of ecological research. Science and engineering ethics. Springer; 2015;21(3):577–94.
Waber RL, Shiv B, Carmon Z, Ariely D. Commercial features of placebo and therapeutic. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2008;299(9):1016–7.