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Ethics reform for social sciences

Social scientists are drawing up a common set of ethical principles aimed at freeing research from excessive ethics oversight frameworks that hinder their ability to improve social understanding and expand research.

Freedom in social science research is as important in the academic sphere as freedom of speech and the press in a democracy. In the past decade, however, UK and international funders have required universities to vet all research involving human subjects via institutional ethics committees. This is the same as journalist’s questions being checked for whether they would insult someone – something that seems ridiculous. Therefore reform to introduce a blanket national set of rules is being undertaken. This reform will increase research freedom and decrease bureaucracy.

Professor Dingwall, who teaches sociology at the University of Nottingham and is a member of an Academy of Social Sciences working group on the issue. He said committee members often had no expertise in ethics or the research field in question, and were primarily concerned with the university’s public reputation. Sometimes potentially very important projects were not even brought to the committees in fear of rejection.

The Academy of Social Sciences working group has last week hosted the first of a series of conferences with learned societies, the Economic and Social Research Council and other interested bodies aimed at producing a statement of ethical principles common across the social sciences. The hope is that the resulting code will inform all researches of what is expected from them. The reformed code is expected to be implemented in October.

The new set of ethics should free up social research and usher in a new age of freedom for related departments. Hopefully this will lead to new breakthroughs and increased understanding of our society.

Source: Paul Jump, Times Higher Educational

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