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It’s My Hamster –
When Science Fair Meets Ethics
by Lauren Hudson

As a teacher, I always encourage my students to select Science Fair topics that genuinely interest them rather than the typical projects from library books and websites. Every year, students want to test how products affect them or how their pet is influenced by different conditions. I think that this is only natural; we want to know more about what is familiar to us. However, there are ethical issues to consider. In the “real world”, scientists are expected to conduct their work ethically, so must we encourage our young scientists to contemplate the impact of their experiments.

Policies set in place by Youth Science Canada not only govern the projects that may enter the Canada Wide Science Fair but also all regional Science Fair chapters, including the Vancouver Island Regional Science Fair. Become familiar with the ethics documents at the following website to avoid having disappointed students:

Youth Science Canada Ethics Guidelines 

Use the following points as a rough guide:

  • An adult supervisor should always be aware of and is therefore responsible for the ethical issues involved in a project
  • Projects on lower orders of life, including bacteria, protozoa, fungi, plants and invertebrates, are allowed when conducted without causing excess harm
  • Projects on higher orders of life, including vertebrates or invertebrates with complex nervous systems, are only allowed in select cases
  • Any projects involving human subjects must be conducted with the participants’ written consent, the written consent of the parent/guardian of participants under the age of 19, and the subjects’ privacy must be respected
  • Projects consisting of surveys of attitudes and beliefs, skill tests or observation of behaviour are allowed, but sensitivity to the dignity of and respect for the individuals must be attended to
  • All projects involving exercise, ingestion of food or drink or invasive procedures are considered to be of high riskSo bring out the surveys, slap on the running shoes and tell me which carrot tastes better…just don’t forget to consider the ethical and safety aspects of these projects!

      (1) Permission form for human participants
      (2) Request for Ethics Ruling