The "how" and "whys" of research: Life scientists' views of accountability
Center for Integration of Research on Genetics and Ethics, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, USA. Journal of medical ethics
(Impact Factor: 1.51).
12/2009; 35(12):762-7. DOI: 10.1136/jme.2009.031781
To investigate life scientists' views of accountability and the ethical and societal implications of research.
Qualitative focus group and one-on-one interviews.
45 Stanford University life scientists, including graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty.
Two main themes were identified in participants' discussions of accountability: (1) the "how" of science and (2) the "why" of science. The "how" encompassed the internal conduct of research including attributes such as honesty and independence. The "why," or the motivation for conducting research, was two-tiered: first was the desire to positively impact the research community and science itself, and second was an interest in positively impacting the external community, broadly referred to as society. Participants noted that these motivations were influenced by the current systems of publications, grants and funding, thereby supporting a complex notion of boundary-setting between science and non-science. In addition, while all participants recognised the "how" of science and the two tiers of "why," scientists expressed the need to prioritise these domains of accountability. This prioritisation was related to a researcher's position in the academic career trajectory and to the researcher's subsequent "perceived proximity" to scientific or societal concerns. Our findings therefore suggest the need for institutional change to inculcate early-stage researchers with a broader awareness of the implications of their research. The peer review processes for funding and publication could be effective avenues for encouraging scientists to broaden their views of accountability to society.
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ABSTRACT: Within the EU-project NewGeneris human placental perfusion has been used for predicting fetal exposure to food carcinogens. Within the work package of ethical aspects of the research, we studied opinions of the researchers (n = 23) who carried out perfusions of human placenta. Data were collected by focus group interviews (n = 12) and an open-ended questionnaire (n =19 of which 8 were also attending the group session) from scientists representing 9 different nationalities. Both types of data were analysed together thematically and with data triangulation. Studied researchers considered communication between all stakeholders extremely important. Good communication was considered a prerequisite for the recruitment of mothers to donate the placenta, as well as for the process of getting the informed consent. Voluntariness, confidentiality and societal meaning were mentioned as important by all studied researchers. Educating the hospital personnel was regarded as essential in order to provide the best possible information to the mothers. The researchers also pointed out that cultural aspects should be respected, and that in Western thinking placenta is mostly considered as waste. Some researchers suggested that current guidelines and processes for obtaining informed consent should be reviewed also from a cultural perspective. With the development of biobanks, the use of human tissues, including placenta will most probably increase in the future, and the awareness of ethical considerations both in legislation and in practice need support. Thus, continuous effort for better research ethics is essential and requires research on research ethics.
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