Research Ethics, Law and Open Science

A core assumption underpinning many efforts to promote and support open science is that it helps strengthening the link between science and society by increasing transparency, facilitating engagement and enhancing trustworthiness. In this way, open science can help prevent, solve or at least mitigate some research ethics problems, that is, moral problems that are associated with or emerge while conducting research.

However, during consultation process some stakeholders pointed out that open science also creates new and exacerbates existing research ethical challenges, especially in the realms of data protection, intellectual property rights and societal engagement with research. All these challenges are related to finding the right balance between promoting trust in research through openness and transparency on the one hand and safeguarding privacy rights as well legitimate interests of innovators on the other hand.

Some ethical issues and challenges that have arisen from the consultation process are mentioned below:

  • For some researchers the translation of the implications of “as open as possible, as closed as necessary” approach to their own work can be challenging because some provisions of the GDPR are written in a terminology somewhat opaque to many of them.
  • Data is opened up in violation of data protection legislation or data is not made open because of perceived legal concerns. For example, researchers usually prefer to err on the side of caution and thus tend to refrain from opening data. This tendency might be particularly acute in countries where personal data processing also for research purposes is only allowed if consent is invoked as applicable legal basis for data processing in accordance with the GDPR.
  • Research conducted with the ambition to apply for patents cannot easily be made open without significant strings attached, a challenge that seems particularly relevant in privately funded and industry research.
  • Not all research ethical challenges of open science have a strong legal dimension. As stated above, a key promise of open science is its alleged potential to strengthen the science-society nexus. The linkage of science and society is about asking society what the issues are they want science to solve. How they want it to be solved, if they have some ideas, to involve them entirely in research and to keep communication and engagement all the way.

More generally, the readers should keep in mind that the list of research ethical challenges discussed above is not exhaustive.

This passage is part of D3.3: Report on interviews written by Tom Lindemann, Lisa Häberlein, Philipp Hövel.