Political scientists don’t typically have to worry about the ethical implications of their research the way a nuclear physicist might. After all it’s hard to see how an improved understanding of the differences between presidential and parliamentary systems can turned into a weapon.
The turn towards brain imaging, genetics and social networks does however raise a troubling issue with how our work might be used to diminish the privacy and independence of people in society. A perfect example of this can be found right here in San Diego with No Lie MRI, which uses fMRI to offer “truth-verification” services for $5k a pop.
Fortunately, the use of such technology is inadmissable in court, thanks to the Daubert Standard; however, this relies on the fact that such use of fMRI has heretofore been limited to laboratory conditions, and hasn’t been well-tested “in the field”. It’s not clear how long this limitation will remain.
Something for all of us to think about in our own research efforts.