Barriers to Considering Ethical and Societal Implications of Research: Perceptions of Life Scientists

Jennifer Blair McCormick, Angie M. Boyce, Jennifer M. Ladd, Mildred K. Cho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Background: As part of an empirical study investigating how life scientists think about ethical and societal implications of their work, and about life science research in general, we sought to elucidate barriers that scientists might face in considering such implications. Methods: Between 2005 and 2007, we conducted a study consisting of phone interviews, focus groups, and a national survey of life scientists at biomedical research institutions. The study population included graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, clinical instructors, and research staff. We analyzed data through qualitative and quantitative methods. Results: In analyzing the data, we found that life scientists do, in fact, face barriers to considering ethical and societal implications of research. We categorized these barriers as falling into four broad domains: (1) lack of awareness of ethical and societal implications; (2) lack of relevance of such concerns to their specific research; (3) self-confidence in their ability to resolve such concerns; and (4) aspects of the daily practice of science itself. Conclusions: Life science researchers experience elements inherent in their training and in the conduct of science as barriers to thinking about ethical and societal implications related to their work. These findings suggest areas in which research ethics educators, bioethicists, and the scientific community can focus their efforts to improve social and ethical accountability in research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-50
Number of pages11
JournalAJOB Primary Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health Policy


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