Conversations About Research Ethics

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About the CARE Program

The CARE program is a year-long interdisciplinary series of faculty-led conversations that examines ethical issues that arise from research practice. There is a need to explore not only the ethical importance of research at Ohio State but also the ethical challenges that scholars face when conducting research, and the manner in which researchers across the university community address these challenges. 

CARE panel discussions create opportunities for Ohio State researchers to engage in comprehensive and critical reflection about the ethical implications of  their research practices.

 

Why Ohio State needs CARE 

The aim of CARE is to spark a university-wide conversation about research ethics that goes beyond the regulatory requirements for human subjects protection and research integrity as traditionally understood and defined.

When thinking about the ethical challenges that arise in academic research, we often conjure up one of two extreme images: (i) detailed (and sometimes nitpicky) feedback from institutional review boards or (ii) newspaper headlines that call attention to disgraced scientists, falsified data, and retracted articles. Missing from this binary picture are the complex and difficult ethical dilemmas and challenges that most researchers face every day.

There are researchers who are motivated by the scientific and social value of their work to responsibly design and conduct their research, but who nonetheless face pressing ethical challenges in the field or in the lab that they must navigate. These ethical challenges arise out of the persistent social inequities that create vulnerable populations, and from the demands of current funding structures, publishing practices, and norms of professional advancement.

Consider, for example, the following example from a forthcoming ETHOS interview with Ellen Mosley-Thompson and Lonnie Thompson on the ethical importance of their work in ice core paleoclimatology. When asked what ethical challenges they faced conducting their research, Dr. Thompson replied, "When we drill around the world, most societies view these glaciers as sacred places. And they ask, 'what are you going to do? Are you going to drill a hole right through this glacier?' ... Sometimes you are required to do things that there is no textbook, in order to get permission [from the local community]." Dr. Thompson and Dr. Mosley-Thompson recalled the many different ways in which their team had to go beyond local governmental approval and adherence to regulatory oversight requirements in order to obtain local buy-in. In one instance, their team participated in local sacrificial rituals to show respect for tribal deities. In another, they had to reckon with the local community's suspicions that drilling would "be extracting the memories from the mountain."

Cases like this highlight the ethical challenges that even the most responsible researchers face in the field or in the laboratory. They do not merely bear on the question of what is allowed—the questions that federal regulations and institutional oversight committees are designed to enforce—but rather questions about what is the right thing to do. In other words, researchers face questions not merely of what is ethically permissible but of what is ethically optimal.

 

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1.22.19 CARE Panel