PRO-RES: Promoting ethics and integrity in non-medical research

6 August 2019

An update from Dr. Ron Iphofen on the PRO-RES (PROmoting integrity in the use of RESearch results) project. Find out more about the project on the PRO-Res website

The Academy research ethics team involved in the European Commission-funded PRO-RES Project continues to take an active and leading role in the European Commission-funded PRO-RES Project. Although the later Summer months are conventionally quieter in European research circles, the Academy team along with our consortium partners have been driving the Project through a crucial phase – completing the first round of high level consultant workshops with stakeholders and building the website towards its intended objective as an interactive virtual platform that engages interested parties in ensuring ethics and integrity across all non-medical sciences. The lead taken by the social sciences in general is important to other research areas not traditionally highly experienced in the ethics appraisal of their work. Recent workshops have been conducted in Brussels, Dublin, Rome, Tallinn and Pisa on subjects as wide-ranging as surveillance, covert research, deception, environmental and nano-sciences, AI and robotics, big data, finance and economics and research in crisis and disaster zones. To fill in some ‘gaps’ the team will be running additional workshops in November in London and Bristol on qualitative research ethics and ethical research in economics – the latter with the help of the Schumacher Institute. Assessing the ethics of research in economics and finance is one of our most challenging areas. So too is ensuring that advocacy and public relations agencies are included in our coverage. To neglect them would be a little like assuming that investigative journalists are not also researchers. Thus the experience of Cambridge Analytica as a data capture research and advocacy agency shows what can go wrong if regulatory mechanisms are neglected and when an ethical culture is absent. Ongoing liaison with related European Commission projects has been seen as essential to ensure no unnecessary duplication of effort – the funded research in this field is extensive and highly productive. The first phase of the PRO-RES work requires building a Framework of resources and that is now in a pilot stage on the website – once that is ready to roll out we will be seeking comment from Academy Fellows. The next stage in the project will be even more challenging – persuading policymakers to act effectively to recognise when regulation is required and when researchers can be left to self-regulate. In the meantime, the website is worth exploring – again all comments and observations would be welcome: http://prores-project.eu/

There may be one even more challenging issue to address: how UK research groups teams can engage with European colleagues in the event of a no-deal Brexit. It is unclear even how ongoing projects will continue to be funded but the Commission has made it clear that without a deal UK researchers will be left out of forthcoming research programmes. Given the lead the Academy has shown with this Project and the esteem we have generated from our European partners that outcome would be disastrous.