Academy advocates ethical review boards for informatics research

19 September 2016

The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) has recommended the installation of review boards to address ethical and legal dilemmas in informatics research. The Academy wishes to see such review boards work together to develop a transparent review mechanism.

Research into such subjects as computer system security and software reliability often raises legal and ethical dilemmas, for example concerning the right to privacy or intellectual property rights. The Academy has recommended the installation of ethical review boards for informatics research, based on experience gained in the field of medicine. Cooperation, mutual learning and knowledge-sharing between such boards would give rise to a common review mechanism that is both transparent and distinguishable as such.

According to the advisory report, the presence of an ethical review board would not discharge individual researchers from the responsibility of addressing ethical and legal dilemmas in their work. The report recommends a number of ways to raise awareness of ethical aspects among researchers, for example by drawing up a code of conduct, appointing an ethical adviser, and making training in ethics and academic integrity a compulsory part of a researcher’s education.

The Academy expects that instituting ethical review mechanisms in informatics research will inspire other disciplines to follow suit. Research on big data falls outside the scope of this report; a separate advisory report on this subject will be issued next year.

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