Written By: Robert Dingwall
Consulting Sociologist, Dingwall Enterprises Ltd.
The system of pre-emptive ethics regulation developed in the biomedical sciences has become a major threat to research in the humanities and the social sciences (HSS). Although there is growing criticism of its effects, most commentators have accepted the principle of regulation and gone along with the attempts to impose it as a global standard. This webinar argues against that concession. Ethics regulation is fundamentally wrong because it damages democratic societies in ways that far exceed any harm that HSS research can cause to individuals.
The evidence of regulatory failure has had little impact for two main reasons: first, there are now strong interests vested in the regulatory system; and, second, the case for reform has been too easily dismissed as self-serving. This webinar focuses on the second issue. The case for reform does not rest on inconvenience to researchers but on the costs to societies. Ethics regulation obstructs innovation, creates profound areas of ignorance, and infantilizes human subjects. These obstructions contribute to the use of societal resources in ways that are inefficient, ineffective, inequitable, and inhumane.
Rawls describes a society as a ‘cooperative structure for mutual advantage.’ Everyone benefits from a society to which everyone contributes. The social sciences are part of an institutionalized system of audit, identifying contributions and benefits. Ethics regulation steers research away from ‘difficult’ populations, topics, and methods, creating systematic areas of ignorance. Without such knowledge societies cannot create the transparency among people that promotes better lives. As Dewey observed, ‘free social inquiry is indissolubly wedded to the art of full and moving communication’ contributing to ‘a life of free and enriching communion’.
If regulation cannot be abolished, it must comply with four principles: First, it must exclude all research that presents no more risk to participants than they already accept in their everyday lives. Second, it must recognize that research participants are normally in a more powerful position than researchers because of their ability to grant or withhold access to information. Third, all citizens must be assumed to have a right to participate. Finally, any regulatory system must conform to standards of due process and be strictly confined to matters of ethics: if an institution is concerned about reputation management, legal liability, or offence to patrons, these are management decisions that are irrelevant to the integrity of researchers or their projects.
Please join us for Robert’s joint presentation in conjunction with this blog piece during our Qualitative Methods Master Class Webinar Series on March 26th at 1PM MST! Register today: http://iiqm.ualberta.ca/ResearchTraining/WebinarSeries.aspx