Biofutures in a Globalized World

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Building an Integrated Program of Ethics Education in the Non-medical Sciences at the University of Washington

The concerns that animate the Biological Futures initiative throw into sharp relief the need for forward-thinking, proactive engagement with issues of research integrity and research ethics. It is crucial to ensure that researchers in all fields operate in accord with the highest standards of ethical practice as currently understood. At the same time, rapidly changing scientific capabilities and emerging technologies pose a number of distinctive ethical challenges; it is also imperative that we critically and creatively address the implications of this dynamic research environment for established standards of responsible research. The new National Science Foundation requirement for ethics training reinforces such an orientation towards better thinking about research ethics, and has wide ranging ramifications for the sciences and engineering at the University of Washington.

The University of Washington is in the top rank of research institutions internationally and receives more federal grant funding for research than any other public university in the United States. This success creates its own challenges and comes with enormous responsibilities. It also puts the University of Washington in a position to play an influential leadership role in proactively building an integrated program of training in research ethics that will serve as a model for other research institutions.

The University of Washington is especially well situated to take up this leadership role given not only its significant strengths in the sciences but also its Program on Values in Society, created a decade ago with a mandate to foster interdisciplinary teaching and research on matters of ethical concern, and the Science Studies Network (established in 2007) which includes, as one of three focal areas of interest within STSS (science, technology, and society studies), normative questions about research integrity, equity, and accountability in the sciences. The primary goal of this project is to build on these interdisciplinary strengths: to establish robust partnerships between researchers in the non-medical sciences and scholars with expertise in ethics and STSS, and to lay the foundations for a sustainable program of research ethics education focused on the non-medical sciences.

The goals:

  • To build research training into graduate and advanced undergraduate training in the (non-medical) sciences so that it is integral to the core curriculum of these fields;

  • To cultivate a robust understanding of (non-medical) research ethics issues, and of the analytic and conceptual skills necessary for effectively addressing them.

The principles:

  • Research ethics training needs to be rooted in the practice of particular research fields, and tailored to the needs of specific research communities;

  • At the same time, there is much to be gained by sharing wisdom across fields and drawing on the expertise of colleagues whose primary research interests lie in the areas of theoretical and applied ethics, and in STSS.

The strategy:

  • Identify best practices in existing ethics training practices and build on them; develop exemplar and mentor-driven courses, workshops, and modules that augment existing ethics training in areas of identified need;

  • Establish ethics training resources that integrate field and issues-specific programs into a cross-campus network of research ethics education.

For more information about The Research Ethics Project, contact:

The Research Ethics Project is one of a cluster of initiatives that comprise “Biological Futures in a Globalized World,” a two year program funded by the Center for Biological Futures at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and hosted by the Simpson Center for the Humanities. For more information, please visit the Biological Futures in a Globalized World Initiative Page.

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