Making researchers moral: Why institutionalised distrust might not work
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Research ethics, once a platform for declaring intent, discussing moral issues and providing advice and guidance to researchers, has developed over time into an extra-legal regulatory system, complete with steering documents, overseeing bodies, and formal procedures. The process of institutionalising distrust is usually motivated by reference to past atrocities committed in the name of research and the need to secure public trust. This paper examines some limitations of this approach. First, past atrocities cannot provide the necessary justification unless institutionalised distrust is a necessary or efficient means to prevent future ones; and there are several reasons to doubt that this is the case. Second, the efficacy of ethics review in safeguarding morally acceptable research depends on the moral competence and integrity of individual researchers—the kinds of qualities that institutionalised distrust calls into question. Third, ethics guidelines cannot, as it is sometimes assumed, educate or guide researchers to moral behaviour unless they already have considerable capacity for moral judgment. Fourth, institutionalised distrust is a potential threat to the moral competence and integrity of researchers by encouraging a blinkered view of ethical issues, inducing moral heteronomy through incentives, and alienating them to research ethics as a pursuable activity. We conclude that the moral problem posed by inappropriate short-term behaviour on behalf of researchers is dwarfed by the potential long-term consequences of allowing their moral competence to deteriorate. Measures must therefore be taken to ensure that researchers are equipped to take their individual responsibility and not obstructed from doing so.
research ethics; moral responsibility; ethics review; ethics guidelines; institutionalised distrust; scientific misconduct
Research subject Bioethics
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-192211OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-192211DiVA: diva2:589196