Understanding Researchers' Views on Societal and Ethical Considerations in the Life Sciences
As research on fundamental biological processes moves forward, more questions are raised about ethical, legal, social and policy issues, which challenge society's views and existing regulatory structures. In order to address these issues, CIRGE has developed a new service, the Benchside Ethics Consultation Service (BECS), to collaboratively resolve researchers' questions. To better inform the development of this service we conducted a pilot survey, which illustrated the need for further research. We therefore decided to use a multi-method approach to explore how and what scientists think about the societal and ethical considerations related to life science research. We used the results of phone interviews and focus groups to develop a multi-institutional national survey. The data from these studies will facilitate strategies to strengthen the relationship between science and biomedical ethics.
Our methods, briefly detailed, were as follows:
We identified faculty, research staff, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students engaged in genetics research at Stanford University. The names were obtained from publicly available websites. We randomly selected one hundred and fifty names to survey.
We constructed a database of names from publicly available websites of Stanford life sciences departments including biology, cancer biology, biochemistry, biophysics, genetics, pathology and psychiatry. We used stratified random sampling to identify twenty researchers to invite to participate in semi-structured interviews. Sixteen researchers were ultimately interviewed; participants included two faculty members, four instructors, four research staff, three postdoctoral fellows and three graduate students. Prior to these interviews, the interview structure and questions were piloted on one faculty member and one graduate student; no substantial changes were made after the pilot.
Using the same database and sampling process as for the phone interviews, we invited one hundred and twenty individuals to participate in one of four two-hour focus groups. Twenty-five scientists ultimately participated; each group therefore included between five and seven individuals. The focus groups were also stratified based on researcher position: one focus group consisted of graduate students, one of postdoctoral fellows, and two of combinations of faculty, senior research staff and clinical instructors. Prior to these focus groups, the focus group structure and questions were piloted on a group consisting of two postdoctoral fellows and two research staff; no substantial changes were made after the pilot.
Multi-institutional National Survey
We developed a four-page survey consisting primarily of closed-ended questions. This survey was mailed to biomedical sciences researchers in the biology, biochemistry, genetics (nonclinical), pathology and psychiatry/behavioral sciences (clinical) departments at Stanford University and at six other universities randomly selected from a subset of the NIH's 2004 list of top one hundred award recipients. As an objective of this study was to assess Stanford scientists' perceptions of bioethicists and bioethical issues, Stanford researchers were oversampled; surveys were mailed to five hundred Stanford researchers and to two hundred and fifty researchers at each of the other six institutions.
Interview transcripts, focus group transcripts and qualitative survey data were imported into the MaxQDA qualitative software and were iteratively and independently coded by different analysts. Final codes, themes and relationships were therefore reached by consensus. We used STATA to quantitatively assess survey results.
Cho M.K., Tobin S.L., Greely H.T., McCormick J., Boyce A. and D. Magnus. Research ethics consultation: the Stanford experience. IRB: Ethics & Human Research, 2008. 30(6):1-6.
Cho M.K., Tobin S.L., Greely H.T., McCormick J., Boyce A. and D. Magnus. Response to open peer commentaries on "Strangers at the benchside: research ethics consultation." Am J Bioeth, 2008. 8:4-6.
Cho M.K., Tobin S.L., Greely H.T., McCormick J., Boyce A. and D. Magnus. Strangers at the benchside: research ethics consultation. Am J Bioeth, 2008. 8(3): 4-13.
McCormick J.B., Boyce A.M. and M.K. Cho. Biomedical scientists' perceptions of ethical and social implications: is there a role for research ethics consultation? PLoS ONE, 2009. 4(3): e4659.
Ladd J.M., Lappé M.D., McCormick J.B., Boyce A.M. and M.K. Cho. The "how" and "whys" of research: life scientists' views of accountability. J Med Ethics, 2009. 35(12):762-7.
Boyce A., McCormick J. and M. Cho. Beyond the nature-nurture debate: bioethics and the integration of knowledges, in Translating Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Genomic Research. 2008: Cleveland, OH.
Cho M.K. The Benchside Ethics Consultation Service: A model of un-governance for genomic research, in Ontario Genome Institute and University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics. 2008: Toronto, Canada. (Invited Presentation).
Cho M.K. Ethics in action: models for oversight, in Wellcome Trust. 2008: London, UK. (Invited Presentation).
McCormick J., Boyce A. and M.K. Cho. Ethical, societal, and policy implications of research: Do geneticists’ views differ from other scientists?, in American Society of Human Genetics 58th annual meeting. 2008: Philadelphia, PA.
McCormick J., Boyce A. and M. Cho. Geneticists' views of the societal and ethical implications of research, in Translating Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of Genomic Research. 2008: Cleveland, OH.
McCormick J., Boyce A. and M. Cho. Geneticists' views of the societal and ethical implications of research: results from a national survey, in American Society of Human Genetics 57th annual meeting. 2007: San Diego, CA.
McCormick J., Boyce A., Garg R. and M.K. Cho. Societal and ethical considerations in life science research: in the eyes of scientists, in American Society of Human Genetics 56th annual meeting. 2006: New Orleans, LA.
Project Directors and Members
Jennifer McCormick, PhD, MPP
Assistant Professor of Biomedical Ethics and Associate Consultant
Mayo Clinic and College of Medicine
Former CIRGE Postdoctoral Fellow
Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Science and Technology Studies
Former CIRGE Program Manager
CIRGE Program Manager
CIRGE Graduate Research Assistant
Doctoral Candidate in Sociology, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences
University of California, San Francisco
Mildred Cho, PhD
SCBE Associate Director