Formally linking ethics and impact could create an enormous change to what research is conducted in Australia
The National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research is a vitally important document for researchers and the public, because it determines what research is acceptable and guides how researchers should design studies to adhere to ethical practice. There is a current public consultation on changes to the statement. One proposed change is that this sentence:
We are not entirely convinced by this piece, which is sometimes hyperbolic. When research will directly impact on the interests and welfare of third parties it is proper that there is a reflection on whether the hoped benefits of the project justify the risk. The widened scope for research ethics committees considering risk is a positive move that we applaud.
Becomes this sentence:
“Research may lead to harm or discomfort for participants and/or others involved in the research or who experience the impact of the research”
Adding “the impact of the research” is a possibly enormous change to health and medical research, greatly increasing the scope of potential harms that researchers and ethics committees will have to consider.
What is research impact
The NHMRC defines research impact as the verifiable outcomes that research makes to knowledge, health, the economy and/or society, and not the prospective or anticipated effects of the research. This definition does not say “positive outcomes” and so negative outcomes are part of research impact.