Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights & Law Program
Addresses ethical, legal and human rights issues related to the conduct and application of science and technology.
Addresses ethical, legal and human rights issues related to the conduct and application of science and technology.
Professional Ethics Report (PER), which has been in publication since 1988, reports on news and events, programs and activities, and resources related to professional ethics issues, with a particular focus on those professions whose members are engaged in scientific research and its applications.
Each quarterly issue is comprised of a cover story addressing one particular issue or event, sometimes written by an expert outside the AAAS; a series of timely, in the news stories; brief updates from the societies; and useful resources and announcements.
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This newsletter may be reproduced without permission as long as proper acknowledgement is given. ISSN: 1045-8808
Making Public Communication Part of Research Responsibility: What Scientists Can and Should Do
By Denise Graveline
Denise Graveline is a communications consultant in Washington, DC. She has served as communications director for AAAS and the American Chemical Society, and as the Deputy Associate Administrator for Communications, Education and Public Affairs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
From my perspective as a communicator working within scientific organizations and now as a consultant and trainer, scientists sometimes view public communication not as part of their routine research responsibilities, but more as a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. Consider these two encounters in which scientists communicated through journalists to public audiences about research findings:
Call it the “all or nothing” approach: In one extreme, the scientist answers a question in a narrative that begins with the research question, assembles the background, shares the supporting details, then arrives at the conclusion in chronological order. (4) In the other extreme, little to no information is shared, on the grounds that a journalist (and by extension, the public audience he represents) has no need to know, right to know or ability to know. Neither approach works, for the audience or for the scientist.
That same “all or nothing” construct is sometimes applied to public audiences, when scientists assume that non-scientists must know all that a scientist knows in order to understand science, and the related assumption that non-scientists know nothing about scientific topics. The view of the public as deficient in scientific knowledge–the so-called “deficit model” in science communication studies–is seen again and again. When a scientist refers to the need to “dumb down” content for a public audience or a journalist, or chooses to withhold information rather than have to explain it, that model is in play. Even the idea that there is one monolithic “general public” that thinks and acts the same way is an all-or-nothing approach.
Yet there’s a practical mid-ground between the devil of “no comment” and tossing citizens into the deep blue sea of your entire dataset without so much as a life preserver. As AAAS chief executive officer Alan Leshner has noted, “the problem is not merely a lack of scientific comprehension. In some cases, the public generally does understand scientific content in a fundamental way but still doesn’t like it…We must have a genuine dialogue with our fellow citizens about how we can approach their concerns and what specific scientific findings mean.” (5)
Such a dialogue requires an understanding – and use – of the communication style that non-scientists employ, one that focuses on results first, then looks for persuasive supporting facts, and perhaps later, all the details if more are wanted. It’s the reverse of the communication path scientists traditionally take when communicating with scientists. Below is a useful depiction of these opposing modes of communication, used in the Communicating Science: Tools for Scientists and Engineers workshops that AAAS developed through its Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, and for which I serve as facilitator:
Figure courtesy of AAAS Communicating Science workshops
Where, then, does the scientist’s responsibility lie in communicating science to public and media audiences? Stephen Jay Gould put it this way: “So many scientists think that once they figure it out, that’s all they have to do, and writing it up is just a chore. I never saw it that way. Part of the art of any kind of total scholarship is to say it well.” (6) The AAAS Communicating Science workshops begin with the premise that responsible conduct of research includes engagement and multidirectional communication with public audiences, from citizens and journalists to policymakers and skeptics. Some 1,471 scientists have been trained in the workshops to date at scientific society meetings and on campuses around the U.S., building communication skills that include defining public audiences and targeting information to them, as well as developing messages and delivery skills effective with public audiences. Participants also are encouraged to find and develop new ways to engage public audiences, using social media, events and other types of outreach opportunities to both listen to and converse with non-scientists.
It would be equally wrong to create another deficit model suggesting that scientists have no wish to communicate with public audiences. Scientists participating in the AAAS workshops express and demonstrate a willingness and enthusiasm for communicating with public audiences, while acknowledging frankly their need for training, practice and encouragement to do so. But many of them report challenges to incorporating public engagement into their research responsibilities on a regular basis. Here are options for doing so that are more practical and effective than a “no comment” or giving a non-scientist the same explanation you would to a colleague:
New Program at AAAS
As part of a review of science and policy activities at AAAS, two of the Association’s programs are merging into a new Program on Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law (SRHRL). The new Program will build on the highly successful work of the former programs on Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law and Science and Human Rights, both of which have produced a rich history of accomplishments since their beginnings in the 1970′s.
SRHRL will continue many of the core activities of the two programs, such as those related to defending the freedom to engage in scientific inquiry, pioneering the application of science and technology to document human rights violations, promoting responsible research practices, and engaging policy makers and the larger public on the social, ethical and legal implications of advances in science and technology. We will retain many of the approaches that have served us well in the past, but will also be open to new ones.
With the formation of SRHRL comes a commitment to exploring new areas of synergy between science, ethics, law and human rights. The historical relationship among them has always existed, but the merger offers real opportunities to look at them through a more contemporary lens. To do this, we will benefit from integrating the expertise of staff and resources from the previous programs.
The new Program will benefit from the advice of two current AAAS standing committees – the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility and the National Conference of Lawyers and Scientists, a joint committee with the American Bar Association. As always, we welcome partnerships with others in performing our work in ways that advance the mission of AAAS “to advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.” Please join us.
Visit the Program website at http://srhrl.aaas.org
Read the AAAS news release about the Program merger, http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2011/0609humanrights.shtml
FDA Guidance on Financial Disclosure by Clinical Investigators
In May 2011, the Food and Drug Administration, issued a draft Guidance for Clinical Investigators, Industry, and FDA Staff: Financial Disclosure by Clinical Investigators. This guidance is a revised version of the previous Guidance for Industry: Financial Disclosure by Clinical Investigators , and isbased on recommendations by the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services.Both versions are intended to clarify regulations about financial disclosure for clinical investigators and related FDA staff.
Before explaining the “Financial Disclosure by Clinical Investigators” regulation, the guidance defines the following key terms:
The guidance further explained the regulation stating that any person submitting a drug for marketing uses should note any financial conflicts of investigators working on the drug trials. The explanation also highlighted that the financial interests needing to be disclosed includes the following:
Also noted in the guidance are steps the FDA could take if the disclosures raised any issues about the reliability and integrity of the data. Some of these steps include: auditing the data, requesting further analyses of the data, requesting additional independent studies, and refusing to use the data for agency action. The guidance includes a range of questions that might be asked regarding the regulation. The draft makes clear that it is intended to represent the FDA’s “current thinking on this topic,” and “should be viewed only as recommendations.”
The FDA is accepting comments and suggestions about this draft guidance through July 25, 2011. Details for submitting comments can be found at: http://www.setonresourcecenter.com/register/2011/may/24/2011-12623.pdf.
A copy of the guidance can be viewed here: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/regulatoryinformation/guidances/ucm256525.pdf
Nine faculty members working in climate change at the Australian National University have been secluded in secure locations after receiving escalating email threats of violence, sexual assault, and death. The University has removed their names and personal information from telephone and online directories as well as relocated them to protected offices in accordance with recommendations made by the Australian Federal Police.
The relocated researchers are only a sample of the many Australians working in climate change who have been the targets of recent threats. In fact, Rossyln Beeby described in an article in The Canberra Times on June 4 how thirty Australian policy experts, economists, and scientists have received similar emails over the last three years threatening their safety and family members.
According to Science, these threats come as a response to the recent political and social fixation on the issue of climate change in the nation. This past February, Prime Minister Julia Gillard ordered the government’s Climate Commission to produce a report on the state of climate change after proposing a carbon tax to the nation’s Parliament. On May 23, the Commission published its report, The Critical Decade, describing the urgent state of global warming and steps the government should take to counteract the effects of climate change. Public controversy surrounding the carbon tax intensified when environmental groups released a pro-tax commercial featuring Australian actress Cate Blanchett several days later.
The resulting public antagonism has affected scientists from universities across the country. Sophie Mirabella, a shadow science minister and a member of the Liberal Party in Parliament, has questioned the timing of these emails in light of the recent political environment. A critic of climate change, she has argued that scientists are using these emails to generate support for the carbon tax. In a media release on her website, Mirabella cited the fact that two scientists who reported receiving threatening emails received them one to five years ago.
Despite this skepticism, supporters and critics of climate change activism have condemned the emails as an insult to academic and intellectual freedom. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education on June 9,American scientists have expressed sympathy and concern for their Australian colleagues. Professor James W.C. White at the University of Colorado at Boulder noted how a fear of public hostility sometimes prevents scientists from entering public dialogues on issues like climate change. He explained in the article, “It doesn’t stop me, because I think it’s very important for climate scientists to speak out. Academic freedom is something we need to take very, very seriously and it’s not freedom unless we are speaking out.”
For more information, see the following articles:
Beeby, Rossyln. “Climate of fear: scientists face death threats,” The Canberra Times, (4 June 2011): http://www.canberratimes.com.au/news/local/news/general/climate-of-fear-scientists-face-death-threats/2185089.aspx
Finkel, Elizabeth. “Threats Sent to Australian Climate Scientists Fuel a Debate,” Science – Science Insider (10 June 2011): http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/06/threats-sent-to-australian-climate.html
Woodard, Colin. “After Death Threats to Climate Researchers, Australian Universities Take Tough Protection Measures,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (9 June 2011): http://chronicle.com/article/After-Death-Threats-to-Climate/127870/
For more information on Sophie Mirabella, see her website at www.sophiemirabella.com.au/
On January 17, 2011, a public consultation on sperm and egg donation policies was begun by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) , a United Kingdom regulatory body that oversees assisted reproductive technology research and treatment. The HFEA sought feedback in three areas: donor compensation, the limit on families assisted per donor, and family donation.
HFEA policy on sperm and egg donor compensation is intended to permit reimbursement for legitimate donor expenses, but not to create a financial incentive to donate, as UK law prohibits payment for gamete donation. Current HFEA policy compensates donors for expenses and loss of earnings but not for “inconvenience.” UK law does, however, allow further compensation for inconvenience, so the HFEA is considering changing their policy to match that of other European countries that compensate for inconvenience. Alternatively, some European countries, including Denmark and Spain, offer a “blanket fee” intended to cover all costs associated with donation of sperm or eggs. The public consultation is intended to inform possible changes in HFEA policy, as UK fertility clinics have indicated that the current system of reimbursement is overly complex and occasionally results in donors not receiving full coverage of their expenses. Another alternate form of compensation under review is egg sharing, whereby patients undergoing assisted reproduction treatment may have their costs reduced by donating some of their eggs.
In considering the number of sperm or egg donations allowed per donor, the HFEA has conflicting needs to increase the supply of donor sperm and eggs and to respect the rights of persons conceived by donation. Since a single donor may contribute his or her sperm or eggs to several different families, a donor-conceived person may end up with an unusually large number of genetic siblings, and may possibly unknowingly enter into a relationship with a genetic sibling. To minimize this possibility, the HFEA currently allows a maximum of ten different families to use the eggs or sperm of a single donor, but wishes to ensure that any numerical limit appropriately balances concerns.
Family donation is the donation of sperm or eggs from one relative to another to treat infertility, which “maintains a genetic link between the recipient and any resulting child.” Family donation may occur between siblings, cousins, or even parent and child. Thus, a donor may serve different social and genetic roles, such as genetic father and social uncle. As a policy option, the HFEA is considering banning the mixing of genetically-related sperm and eggs. They are also thinking of issuing “best practice guidance” regarding family donation, or requesting a “strategy” be in place for when such situations arise in the clinic.
Public consultation ended on April 8, 2011. About 1100 people responded by survey, and results will be reviewed in a public meeting on July 13, 2011 .
 For more information, see: http://www.hfea.gov.uk/donationreview
Over the past year, the National Science Board’s Task Force on Merit Review has been reviewing the two merit criteria by which all NSF proposals are evaluated: intellectual merit and broader impacts. The purpose of the review was to clarify the intent of the criteria, to better articulate how the criteria are used in the review process, and to communicate the underlying principles that motivate the criteria.
To conduct the analysis of merit review criteria, the Task Force solicited material from a variety of sources. It analyzed over 190 Committee of Visitor Reports to various NSF divisions, conducted interviews and surveys with an array of NSF staff, and sought feedback from over 8000 NSF Principal Investigators (PIs) and reviewers. All told, the Task Force considered about 5100 individual responses, and found a surprising amount of consistency in the commentary. The general indication seemed to be intellectual merit and broader impacts were the right principles by which to evaluate proposals, but clarification was needed on the intent of the principles, especially their relationship to the core tenets which drive NSF more generally. The Task Force’s work culminated in proposed changes to the merit review criteria presented at the May 2011 meeting of the National Science Board .
There are four newly articulated principles which serve to link the merit review criteria with NSF’s broader mission . The first principle relates to intellectual merit, in that all NSF funded projects should serve to “advance the frontiers of knowledge.” The next principle states that NSF funded projects should advance a set of nine listed “national goals.” These national goals include things like “increased economic competitiveness of the United States” and “increased partnerships between academia and industry.” The third principle acknowledges a variety of ways broader impacts of research may be achieved, and the fourth principle supports the elasticity of the merit review criteria as assessment becomes necessary over time.
Currently, the NSF and the NSB are soliciting public feedback on the criteria changes, as well as the principles on which they are based. The comment period runs through July 14, 2011, and comments may be submitted to email@example.com.
At a meeting of the 33rd session on May 10-13, 2011, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a summary, Decisions Taken with Respect to the Review of IPCC Processes and Procedures. This summary addressed the development of the IPCC’s conflict of interest policy, particularly with respect to the recommendations of the InterAcademy Council (IAC), from the previous session in October 2010. Several key suggestions were made for implementing the policy, such as prolonging the length of the Task Group on Conflict of Interest Policy’s in order to draw up implementation proposals.
The appendix of the summary detailed the adopted IPCC Conflict of Interest Policy, including several of the following provisions:
The IPCC policy also noted what would constitute a potential conflict of interest. A variety of factors and considerations were discussed:
By the next session, the IPCC expects to develop and adopt an implementation plan and a disclosure form. The policy is expected to be fully implemented by the 35th session.
A copy of the summary and policy can be viewed here: http://www.ipcc.ch/meetings/session33/ipcc_p33_decisions_taken_conflict_of_interest.pdf
On April 29, 2011 a highly anticipated decision regarding an ongoing dispute over human embryonic stem cell research (hESC) was handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit . In the 2-1 decision in Sherley v. Sebelius, the Court overturned District Court Judge Royce Lamberth’s preliminary injunction , which temporarily halted all federally funded research involving the use of human embryonic stem cell lines in 2010.
Under President George W. Bush, research using hESC was permitted, but it was restricted to the 82 existing embryonic stem cell lines. The 2009 NIH Guidelines on Human Stem Cell Research , which were issued by the NIH in response to President Obama’s Executive Order 13505, allow for the creation of new cell lines from embryos during in vitro fertilization – specifically for reproductive purposes. Additionally, donors must give consent to the use of their embryos for research.
In his decision, Judge Lamberth argued that the use of hESC for research, as outlined by the 2009 Guidelines, violate the text of the 1996 Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which prohibits the use of Federal funds for:
“(1) the creation of a human embryo or embryos for research purposes; or (2) research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death greater than that allowed for research on fetuses in utero under .”
For the Court to issue a preliminary injunction, a plaintiff must establish, “(1) that he is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, (3) that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and (4) that an injunction is in the public interest .”
The Appeals Court’s opinion rested on an interpretation of the word “research” as used within the Amendment and the Guidelines. In his majority opinion, Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg reasoned that the plaintiffs would be unlikely to succeed because the “Dickey-Wicker is ambiguous and the NIH seems reasonably to have concluded that, although Dickey-Wicker bars funding for the destructive act of deriving an ECS from an embryo, it does not prohibit funding a research project in which an ESC will be used. We therefore vacate the preliminary injunction.”
 Sherley v. Sebelius, United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, Argued December 6, 2010, Decided April 29, 2011.
 Sherley v. Sebelius, 704 F. Supp.2d 63(2010), United States District Court, District of Columbia, August 23, 2010.
 Sherley v. Sebelius, 704 F. Supp.2d 63(2010), United States District Court, District of Columbia, August 23, 2010.
 Winter v. Natural Res. Def Council, Inc., 129 S. Ct. 365, 374 (2008) quoted inSherley v. Sebelius, p.8, United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, Argued December 6, 2010, Decided April 29, 2011.
UNESCO Presents Global Platform for Ethics Education: The International Association for Education in Ethics
In April 2011, the International Association for Education in Ethics (IAEE) emerged in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania as a new platform for the discussion and teaching of global perspectives on ethics. The Center for Healthcare Ethics in Duquesne University will host the association and serve as the home of the IAEE Secretariat and Treasury.
The establishment of IAEE follows a long-standing initiative begun by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to facilitate a global dialogue on the ethical implications of science and technology. UNESCO brought together experts in ethics from around the world in March 2010 to share experiences and opinions on the teaching of ethics. That meeting eventually laid the foundations for what emerged as IAEE.
The Center for Healthcare Ethics at Duquesne University outlines the four goals of IAEE: “(1) to exchange and analyze experiences with the teaching of ethics in various educational settings; (2) to promote the development of knowledge and methods of ethics education; (3) to function as a global center of contacts for experts in the field, and promote contacts between the members from countries around the world; and (4) to enhance and expand the teaching of ethics at national, regional and international levels.”
In order to accomplish these objectives, members of IAEE will discuss and teach ethics in areas including but not limited to medicine, nursing, pharmaceuticals, animals, business, education, and the law. IAEE will arrange international conferences and meetings featuring professionals in ethics from around the world to provide a forum for these discussions. IAEE has announced that Duquesne University will host the first International Conference on Education in Ethics in May 2012. IAEE plans to publish a report of the meeting, which will address professional, philosophical, and religious ethics in medicine, science, technology, and engineering.
To learn more about IAEE as well as to register to become a member, visit http://www.duq.edu/chce.
Call for Papers – The Center for Applied Ethics and Philosophy at Hokkaido University invites the submission of papers for its Sixth International Conference on Applied Ethics. Submissions are welcome on topics including, but not limited to, engineering ethics, biomedical ethics, information ethics, environmental ethics, global ethics, and business ethics. The conference will be held in Sapporo, Japan on October 28-30, 2011. The deadline for submissions is July 17, 2011. For further details, visit: http://ethics.let.hokudai.ac.jp
Call for Papers – ETHICOMP seeks papers for its Latin America Workshop which will take place at the October 10-14 meeting of the Argentine Congress on Computer Sciences (CACIC). The purpose of the workshop is to discuss the ethical issues surrounding the use of information and communication technologies from a South American perspective. For more information, see: http://cacic.info.unlp.edu.ar/ethicomp.php
Call for Proposals – The International Center for Academic Integrity is seeking proposals for its 2011 Annual International Conference. This year’s theme is, Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: Revisiting & Reviving the Fundamental Values of Integrity. A range of proposals are welcome; however, topics of particular interest include plagiarism, cultures of integrity, integrity in education, and academic integrity. The deadline for proposal submission is June 30, 2011. The proposal submission form can be accessed, here: http://www.academicintegrity.org/conferences/2011_Conference/proposal_form.php. For more information about the conference, see: http://www.academicintegrity.org/news_and_notes/call_for_papers_2011.php
Conference – The International Neuroethics Conference on “Neuroenhancement” will be held July 7-9, 2011 at the University of Mainz in Germany. It marks the final conference of the Canadian-German research project “Normality, Normalization and Enhancement in the Neurosciences: Ethical, Sociocultural and Neuropsychiatric Aspects of Cognitive Enhancement.” The conference will focus on the medical, ethical, social, and legal aspects of neuroenhancement. For additional details, visit: http://www.philosophie.uni-mainz.de/1889_ENG_HTML.php
Conference – The U.S. Office of Research Integrity Quest for Research Excellence 2011 conference will take place August 29-30, 2011 at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center in Washington, DC. The conference will bring together educators of responsible conduct of research and researchers of research integrity with representatives from professional societies, funding agencies and regulators. To register for the conference, go to: http://regonline.com/questconference. More information is available at http://ori.dhhs.gov/.
Symposium – On October 10-12, 2011 the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University will hold a symposium titled “Ethical Inquiry through Video Game Play and Design.” The symposium will address such questions as can video games serve as a platform for ethical inquiry? Can and how do video games promote ethical positions? Proposals for the symposium are welcome, and are due by August 1, 2011. Proposals for presentations may address any ethical dimensions of video games. For more information, contact Harry Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org