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ResourcesHuman Research EthicsHuman Genome Diversity: ethics and practice in Australia (Paper: Pellekaan van Holst )

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

Human Genome Diversity: ethics and practice in Australia (Paper: Pellekaan van Holst )


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PAPERS: PELLEKAAN S, H. (2011). Human Genome Diversity: Ethics and Practice in Australia. Human evolution, 26(3-4), 141-152.

Researchers who propose projects about the human past frequently fail to distinguish between scientific value and the impact of both the proposal and the possible outcome for participant groups. It is only in recent years, and still in relatively few cases, that Aboriginal Australians have been directly involved in projects about themselves. The legacy of previous research experiences is a lingering distrust of ‘white’ researchers who visit communities briefly, take material/information, publish papers, and are rarely seen again. This distrust is understandable but in turn becomes a barrier which many well-intentioned researchers are unable or unwilling to overcome. The expectations of the scientific community, particularly in the field of molecular biology, simply do not make allowances in terms of time or funding to build a trusting relationship between the researchers and the researched. Sensitivity to indigenous rights and expectations with regard to scientific research brings obligations to scientific investigators with which few are well prepared to deal. The direct involvement of indigenous people in research about themselves is essential to the development of trusting working relationships likely to result in valuable outcomes for all participants and increased opportunities for ongoing research. Well negotiated, co-operative research can provide information of value to both scientific investigators and local participants, but adequate and ongoing consultation, as well as the return of results to the communities in an accurate and appropriate form must be part of research strategy. For example, information about mitochondrial DNA studies may assist Indigenous Australian people, whose families were dispersed during colonisation by Europeans, to trace links with the past, find ‘stolen children’ and by association with other anthropological, linguistic and archaeological data, repossess some remnants of traditional knowledge, but researchers must ensure that participants have a realistic understanding of the limitations of the research.

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