Ethics belongs to everyone

This morning we had a unique opportunity to talk about research ethics and the guided dialogue approach. In a morning seminar Arto and I introduced our concepts around ethical sensitivity, ethical decision-making, and the need for continuous ethical dialogue within the research community. What followed was a brilliant example of how academics engage with research ethics from their disciplines and positions at the university with Chancellor Thomas Wilhelmsson, Dean Hanna Snellman, and Academy professor Anu Wartiovaara.

First the University of Helsinki Chancellor Thomas Wilhelmsson ¬†highlighted the importance of ethical rules and procedures, and the limitations of rules in dealing with research ethics. An example the Chancellor shared was how the disregard of responsible research conduct and its specific clause of ‘denigrating the role of other researchers’ can turn out to be a challenging ethical question when a researcher considers a very critical evaluation of their work violates principles of research ethics. We were then invited to discuss the role of academic evaluations, appropriateness of language we use to write our reviews, potential conflicts of interest and rights&responsibilities of everyone involved. As the Chancellor highlighted, none of these questions can be answered from studying rules only, but require ethical dialogue and clarity in our values and purpose of the university.

Hanna Snellman, Dean of Faculty of Arts, shared her experience as a ethnology researcher around informant anonymity. What should the researcher do when an informant does not want to be anonymous? What if the informant wants to have their words, experience and thoughts recognised in the research text, to be presented with their real name and fully identifiable? And how does this reflect on other informants who may wish to remain anonymous? The meaning of being identified may be very significant for the informant and their sense of self – and the consequences poorly quantifiable at the time of data collection. Who should then decide? What should the procedure look like? Ethical dialogue, transparency and clarity will assist every researcher in making such choices.

Academy professor Anu Wartiovaara shared the ongoing flow of ethical questions within molecular biology – what should we study, when are animal experiments justified, what results should be tested with a limited patient pool, and how to discuss the results with the media. A research group will face ethical choices at every step of the process and it is important to make the decision-making visible and allow for ethical decision-making to take place alongside the research process.

The seminar highlighted the amazing similarity of ethical questions across disciplines – the context may change, but the need for ethical skills, dialogue and transparency remain the same now matter what type of research we do!

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