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“Promoting and assisting i nstitutions in discharging their responsibility to foster a positive research environment”: . An Expanded View from An Ethicist.

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“Promoting and assisting institutions in discharging their responsibility to foster a positive research environment”:

An Expanded View from An Ethicist

Dr. Karen Houle, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Guelph, November 2013

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Although I am certainly not arguing that we ought never to make judgments – they are urgently necessary for political, legal and personal life alike – I think that it is important to remember that not all ethical relations are reducible to acts of judgment.

Judith Butler

the basic working premise

Under the terms of the Tri-Council Policy Statement on Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Human Participants (2nd edition)institutions, not just individual researchers are responsible for “building a culture of research integrity” and “fostering a positive research environment.”

The Basic Working Premise
two wider interpretations

That ‘culture of integrity’includes but is not exhausted by the important & good rights-based governance work overseen by Research Ethics Policy and its administration—

  • That ‘positive environment’ includes but is not limited to what is found in, happens in, and comes out of, labs & field work; that is, it includes but exceeds the ‘conduct of research.’
TwoWider Interpretations
the upshot

Therefore, the scope and nature of ethical responsibility of an institution for ethical responsibility exceeds its formal organizational structures, legislative practices, models of best practice, its rules, its policies and mandated routines… no matter how clear the rules, no matter how well the guidelines are crafted, no matter how ‘secure’ its systems, no matter how skilled its administrators & advisors are at defining & understanding ‘harm to human subjects,’ discerning ‘compliance,’ ‘certifying eligibility, spotting ‘conflicts of interest,’ policing ‘falsification,’ judging ‘reasonableness’ and identifying ‘consensus.’

The Upshot
the value domain of a university includes

Professional norms and practices of staff, faculty, students, collaborators, sponsors and visitors--

  • Individual and collective ethical decision making processes --
  • Leadership, training and expertise (or lack) in ethics and ethical theory--
  • Authenticity and Character (Virtue Ethics)
  • Value-Creation & Destruction in acts, images, attitudes, objects: (racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental apathy,
  • Aesthetics (contemplation, ugly spaces)
  • Power relations
  • Financial management policies and auditing
  • Civility and Etiquette, Cultural Sensitivity
  • Production of & access to information; accumulation and circulation patterns of academic capital
  • Terminology, concepts, language and discourse of, and for, values—
  • Governance of Research Conduct involving Human Participants, Animals, Biological Specimens, Hazardous Goods, Environmental Impacts…
The ‘Value Domain’ of a University Includes:

Dr. Karen Houle, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Guelph, November 2013

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..The sense of morality as higher, an ethos or ethical stance toward existence…contrasted with morality in the narrower sense; what the moral worth of actions consist in: a functionalist view…

Schopenhauer

(World as Will and Representation, Part 2, p. 47)

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.Diagnosis: ‘Ethics’ in Post-Secondary Institutional settings is currently conceived of in this narrow, functionalist sense; as though, even if we would like to have this ‘expanded concept of ethics’ in reality ‘ethics’ can only be spoken to, about, and from the perspective, principles, concerns and expertise of researchers, research & research conduct. The General Belief: “Institutional Ethics” is good enough, or as good as we can manage.My Assessment: a) false; b) odd; c) pernicious

Dr. Karen Houle, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Guelph, November 2013

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Some evidence: The 2008 International Ecohealth Conference on Justice & Health, in Mérida, in which I participated.4 days. 400 papers. 100’s of posters.Last day keynote: ‘Ethics’delivered by a scientist with a PhD in Environmental Toxicology & with interest in values. Not by an ethicist with a PhD in Philosophy, decades of experience in the field, high-profile scholar of ethics with an interest in health. ? Content of his lecture: cost-benefit analysis and listing of stock concepts (integrity, trust, power)

Dr. Karen Houle, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Guelph, November 2013

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Thought experiment: InversionAn international conference on Visual Art. 4 days, 400 papers, +*superstars* (Ai Wei Wei, PipilottiRist)Final day keynote topic = “Science”…delivered by a painter interested in science…with no experience as a scientist…no publications on science in science journals..? Content of his lecture: “The Empirical Method” +a few very basic concepts (deduction, falsification, pipetting)What does this inversion exercise show us about how “ethics” is conceived?

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OUR QUESTION:How might Universities and members of a University community turn toward, and effectively accomplish, their wider responsibilities toward building ethical culture?

Dr. Karen Houle, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Guelph, November 2013

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Ideal (admittedly utopian) expansion:

      • Ensure all faculty, students and researchers take at least one full semester course in Ethics (and Ethical Theory) taught by someone with professional accreditation & training as an Ethicist--
      • Ensure that all Research Ethics Officers have background in Ethics (MA or PhD) and that all staff in Research Office take professional training workshops in Ethics–
      • Award models of good personhood, good relationships, healthy working climates, beautiful spaces rather than only react to infringement.
      • Officially promote a vision of ethics that includes but goes well beyond the functions performed by the Research Ethics offices-
      • Actively promote a broad spread understanding of ethics that sees it is not the same as ideology or theology: it is a mode of critical engagement with the world and ones activities which enables value to evolve & grow--
      • Promote and support an expanded, positive, robust vision of ethics as integral to the betterment of science and its practices, rather than antithetical to it, hostile to it, or something that just gets in the way of the functioning of the enterprise of research—
  • DISCUSSION: What is possible? What has been done elsewhere?
.

Dr. Karen Houle, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Guelph, November 2013

thank you
Thank you!

Dr. Karen Houle, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Guelph, November 2013