Bioethics Blogs

Calls for Ethical Pluralism

In separate essays, Nathan Emmerich and Igor Gontcharov argue for more flexible systems that would avoid imposing biomedical ethics on the social sciences. Emmerich calls for an emphasis on professional ethics, while Gontcharov seeks “a set of ethical principles that would better reflect the position of [social sciences and humanities] researchers and participants.” I am left unsure what either proposed reform would look like in practice.

[Nathan Emmerich, “Reframing Research Ethics: Towards a Professional Ethics for the Social Sciences,” Sociological Research Online 21, no. 4 (2016): 7, DOI: 10.5153/sro.4127; Igor Gontcharov, “A New Wave of Positivism in the Social Sciences: Regulatory Capture and Conceptual Constraints in the Governance of Research Involving Humans,” SSRN Scholarly Paper (Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, October 31, 2016), DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2861908.]

Emmerich seeks professional ethics

Emmerich argues that

the social sciences can lay claim to a democratic ideal as its ‘higher good’ and, therefore, its guiding ethos or end… .

Given this end – democracy – social science research is persuaded not for its own sake or for the sake of knowledge in itself. Rather, its pursuit is rooted in the (admittedly diverse) socio-political needs of ‘democracy,’ understood as an ethos or normative as an end in itself.

Because of the importance of this work, he argues, researchers should not be constrained by ethics committees. Instead, he proposes that social scientists be judged by the equivalent of clinical ethics committees (CECs), which Emmerich describes as

forums healthcare professionals can attend in order to discuss any ethical issues they encounter.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.