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Ethics self-assessment criteria

In order to assist researchers and scholars with the ethical requirements of their research, to guide them in the process of obtaining ethical clearance for grant proposals and to assess the ethical quality of publications and research proposals, the advisory and assessment tasks of the Ethics Assessment Committee (EACLM) are based on five fundamental principles: reflexivity and awareness, transparency, human dignity, protection of basic rights, and a fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of research.

Ethics principles

  1. Reflexivity and awareness

The primary responsibility for developing good practices and carrying out ethically sound research lies with the researchers and scholars themselves. Every responsible conduct of research starts with an awareness of the ethical aspects of carrying out research and a willingness to plan and conduct research in an ethically proper way. The ethical criteria of the EACLM (outlined below) do not replace the need for ethical reflexivity.

  1. Transparency

Given that academic research is done in the public interest and for the sake of the progress of academic knowledge, transparency and openness regarding the way in which researchers obtain, handle and disseminate data is a crucial component of conducting responsible research.

  1. Human dignity

Given that human dignity forms the basis for decent societies, research dealing with human participants should be conducted with an utmost respect for their inherent moral worth. Being sensitive to the inherent worth of all human beings implies, among others, respect for the human participants' physical and mental integrity, the importance of free and informed consent, and privacy and proportionality regarding the distribution of the benefits of research.

  1. Protection of basic rights

Ethically sound research should be conducted in accordance with the fundamental rights and liberties enumerated in national, European and international laws (see the More information page). These rights protect the human dignity of both human participants and researchers.

  1. Distribution of benefits and burdens

Finally, conducting responsible research also deals with a fair distribution of the benefits and burdens of research. Given that academic research often deals with human participants and is done in the public interest, researchers should take care not to expose participants to unnecessary risks or exclude society from possible benefits.

Ethics criteria

Translating these five fundamental ethics principles into more practical terms results in the following four criteria that the EACLM explicitly pays attention to in its advice on, and assessment of, research proposals and scientific publications. In the research proposal / scientific publication, the EACLM checks how the following issues are dealt with:

  1. Research involving human participants

This refers to any research involving human participants, regardless of its nature or topic. For instance, are the basic rights of human participants sufficiently protected? And is there a fair distribution of benefits and burdens of participating in the research process? Examples of research practices involving human participants are surveys, interviews, observations, the tracking or the secondary use of information provided for other purposes, informal documents, or social media sites.

  1. Research involving personal data

This concerns research which involves collecting or processing personal data, regardless of the method used (e.g. interviews, questionnaires, direct online retrieval). ‘Personal data’ means any information, private or professional, which relates to an identified or identifiable natural person (e.g. name, address, identification number, e-mail, CV, bank account number, phone number, medical records). Individuals are not considered ‘identifiable’ if identifying them requires excessive effort. Completely anonymized data does not fall under the data privacy rules. Questions that come up in the case of this criterion would be, for instance, are researchers aware of the privacy concerns of the human participants? Are researchers transparent in how they will handle data and disseminate results?

  1. Research involving non-EU countries

This is the case when research activities are conducted, partially or wholly, in a non-EU country, or when participants or resources come from a non-EU country. Being outside the reach of European laws and standards, such research can raise specific ethical issues (particularly in developing countries), such as the exploitation of research participants, the exploitation of local resources, health and safety risks to researchers and staff, and research that is prohibited in the EU.

  1. Research involving potential misuse of research results

This regards research involving or generating materials, methods, technologies or knowledge that could be misused for unethical purposes. Although such research is usually carried out with benign intentions, it has the potential to harm humans, animals or the environment.

This is for instance the case with research with a potential impact on human rights, such as people’s right to privacy, or social or genetic research that potentially discriminates or stigmatizes individuals or groups. Another category is research which provides terrorists or criminals with information or technologies that would have substantial direct impact on the security of individuals, groups or states, such as infrastructural vulnerability studies and cyber-security-related research.