Written Evidence Submitted by Dr Ron Iphofen
A UK National Committee for Research Ethics for Non-Medical Sciences
I am writing to suggest one idea for the S&T Committee. There is no effective committee at national level to offer advice and guidance for ethical research for sciences other than those in the medical field (such as Nuffield and Wellcome).
I have been leading a EU-funded project that seeks to ensure the evidence that influences policymaking is ethically generated. To ensure we move beyond the assumption that only academic research is heeded by policymakers – we are using the term ‘Evidence Generating Organisations’ (EGOs) to ensure we include influencers such as media organisations, journalists and, crucially, think tanks.
(see - https://prores-project.eu/)
We recognise that such a wide range of evidence gatherers present a challenge to the conventional views of research integrity – they are unlikely to be ‘constrained’ by what has become a standardised view of professional research practice that one finds embraced by, for example, UKRI. (And other RI structures in other countries.)
Our project has recognised that a normative framework for ethical evidence gathering, supported by a an ‘ACCORD’ statement that is backed up with tools and resources designed to help people research ethically is the best way to encourage ‘good’ research practice. In other words we need to establish and maintain a culture of good practice rather than attempt prescriptive systems with sanctions that could not work across the full range of EGOs.
I am suggesting that a committee for RI under UKRI will be ignored by the major policy research influencers. In any case there is a larger concern that integrity becomes an institutionalised concern for professional researchers and will only work when sanctions are available.
I do not repeat an argument published elsewhere that research integrity should be seen as a subset of research ethics. Having been invited to present a couple of years ago at the EU level meeting of National Research Ethics Committees across Europe at Iasi, Romania, I was struck by the dominance of medically-oriented committees and issues and the lack of a concern for ‘other than medical’ ethical research. I spoke on vulnerability – and it is not only patients that are vulnerable.
Please note I am not suggesting substituting this for the proposed UKRI committee. I am suggesting a vital supplementary one that covers ethical research for all nonmedical disciplines – not just the social sciences. Given the interdependence of subjects and topics – such as the work in AI, robotics, social media, environment and so on – it makes sense to consider issues holistically.
Most importantly such a committee should be thoroughly independent – only that way can the advice and guidance offered be assured of avoiding conflicting vested interests. (Note I am an expert advisor for UKRIO – among many other international agencies: see my website: https://roniphofen.com/ )