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The ethical petri-dish: recommendations for the design of university science curricula0

 

Dr Jo-Anne Kelder, Senior Lecturer, Curriculum Innovation and Development, University of Tasmania, https://www.linkedin.com/in/jokelder/
Professor Sue Jones, Honorary Researcher, School of Natural Sciences, University of Tasmania,
Professor Liz Johnson, DVC of Education, Deakin University, https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabeth-johnson-24292773/
Associate Professor Tina Acuna, ADL&T College of Sciences and Engineering, University of Tasmania, https://www.linkedin.com/in/tina-acuna-25a35965/

Ethics (thinking and practice) is intrinsic to the nature of science. Ethical practices within science-related professions are mandated by policies, frameworks, standards and cultural norms. A scientist should also consider the broader implications for society when applying scientific knowledge..

...
.Does our laboratory start working to develop a vaccine for Covid-19 or continue working on that potential cure for childhood leukemia? What will happen to the endangered Giant Freshwater Lobster if we remodel the hydrology of that major river so farmers in North-West Tasmania can grow more potatoes? Should we approve the use of GM technology to develop Vitamin A-rich rice?.
...

Science graduates must be equipped to contribute to such complex debates, and empowered to make scientific decisions within a sound ethical framework (Johnson, 2010).

The Science Standards Statement (Jones, Yates and Kelder, 2011), the national benchmark for bachelor-level science degrees in Australia, specifies that graduates will demonstrate a coherent understanding of science, and be able to explain the role and relevance of science in society. society (TLO 1: Jones et al., 2011: p.12). Furthermore, they will be equipped to understand and work within ethical frameworks, and “have some understanding of their social and cultural responsibilities as they investigate the natural world.” (TLO 5.3: Jones et al., 2011: p.15).

The argument that there is ‘no space’ for ethics in the science curriculum is no longer valid (Booth and Garrett, 2004; McGowan 2013). However there remain significant barriers to the teaching and assessment of ethical knowledge, skills and capabilities in undergraduate science curricula. We summarise these as: debate and dissent around what should be taught, who should teach ethical thinking, and how should it be taught and assessed.

It’s not just about plagiarism

Ethics in science falls into two broad categories:

  1. Ethics in the practice of science
  2. Ethics in the application of science.

Ethics in the practice of science relates to integrity in research management (including data collection, analysis and presentation); plagiarism, and authorship. Ethics curricula must ensure students’ familiarity with relevant legislative frameworks such as the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research. In professionally oriented/applied disciplines such as Agriculture and Environmental Science students must also be prepared for working ethically in a business environment and to understand their ethical and legal obligations as workplace leaders (Botwright-Acuna and Able, 2016).

Ethics in the application of science requires a broader and deeper perspective: appreciating and accepting responsibility for the impacts of scientific work upon society (Evers, 2001; Schultz, 2014). Graduates need to be aware that the ethical frameworks within which science is practised are not static, but adapt as social norms change. They must understand how their personal ethical perspectives interact with and may clash with, formal mandated frameworks, and be prepared to engage in debate around the ethical implications of applying discovery science in the real world. They must be prepared to defend ethical decisions and to appreciate that others may hold conflicting views. As Evers puts it: “the study of ethics should therefore be an integral part of the education and training of all scientists with the purpose of increasing future scientists’ ethical competence” (2001: p. 97).

Recommendation – that students are encouraged to debate, discuss, and appreciate that people will hold different points of view on, ethical questions.

Teachers may need some training

Practising scientists who themselves operate within relevant ethical frameworks are best placed to guide students about ethics in the practice of science (Kabasenche, 2014). However, while some scientists have taken up the teaching challenge of including ethics explicitly in their curriculum, this is not yet mainstream (Booth and Garrett, 2004). Most science academics are not themselves formally trained in ethical thinking (Johansen and Harris, 2000) and may express legitimate concern that they are not best placed to design and teach curricula on ethics (van Leeuwen, Lamberts, Newitt and Errington, 2007).

Recommendation – that science faculties provide professional development and community of practice opportunities to teaching staff to ensure that they have the confidence, skills and knowledge to teach ethical practice within a science curriculum.

There is a strong argument for a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach, with both science academics and philosophically trained ethicists involved in teaching ‘science ethics’ (Kabasenche, 2014). The scientist contributes expertise in the relevant science and their understanding of the ethical practice of science, while the philosopher brings critical thinking skills and decision-making tools that support ethical understandings and analysis of relative consequences. For example, in The Responsible Scientist, Forge (2008) argues that responsibility in scientific work has implications beyond intended outcomes, and includes taking into account foreseen and foreseeable outcomes.

Recommendation – that science faculties pursue opportunities for collaborative, interdisciplinary design and delivery of ‘science ethics’ across the undergraduate science curriculum.

It’s not just for the first year students

Teaching ethics to science students must do more than ensuring that first years are familiar with university policies on plagiarism and academic integrity (Botwright-Acuna et al., 2016). Ethics must be an explicitly assessed component of the curriculum at each level of study, and overtly aligned to the core science curriculum. Assessment tasks must distinguish between students’ knowledge of relevant ethical frameworks, and their ability to apply those frameworks in practice.

For example, an assessment task for third level Zoology students models an Animal Ethics application: students construct a scientific research question within an ethical framework, and justify that research in language accessible to lay people (Jones and Edwards, 2013). In the undergraduate course ‘Communities of Practice in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’, students develop research skills alongside their capacity for ethical analysis of the impacts of science on society (Keiler et al., 2017) while in a subject on ‘Energy and Sustainability’, students develop a national energy plan that addresses equity issues as well as technical and political feasibility (McGowan, 2013). Schultz (2014) suggests several strategies for assessing Chemistry students’ knowledge of ethical thinking, such as writing a Code of Conduct for practising chemists.

Recommendation – that ethics is a compulsory and explicitly assessed component of a bachelor-level science curriculum, and that students are exposed to ethical thinking in the context of science from their first year onwards.

It’s everybody’s business

Good practice is a teaching team approach to curriculum design, delivery and scholarly evaluation (Kelder et al., 2017; TEQSA, 2018). A whole-of-curriculum approach will involve team members meeting regularly to discuss and coordinate connecting the ethical implications of scientific knowledge and practice being taught; to ensure that ethical thinking is embedded at each curriculum level; to scaffold and develop learning from introductory to assured level. At the broader level, the science curriculum must provide a framework within which students are supported to develop personal and professional responsibility for their learning and later professional life (Loughlin, 2013).

Recommendation – that the degree curriculum is discussed and agreed upon by the whole teaching team prior to curriculum design (and ongoing, as it matures) to ensure that students’ learning is built upon, and assessed coherently and developmentally.

Recommendation – that scholarship promoting and recommending content and delivery methods, and, especially, effective assessment strategies for the teaching of ethics to science undergraduates, is encouraged and rewarded.

References

Booth, J. M. and Garrett, J. M. (2004). Instructors’ practices in and attitudes toward teaching ethics in the genetics classroom. Genetics, 168(3), 1111-1117.

Botwright Acuña, T.L. and Able, A.J. (Eds.). (2016). Good Practice Guide: Threshold Learning Outcomes for Agriculture. Sydney, Australia: Office for Learning and Teaching. https://ltr.edu.au/resources/ID13_2982_Acuna_Guide_2016.pdf

Evers, K. (2001). Standards for ethics and responsibility in science: An analysis and evaluation of their content, background and function. International Council for Science, Paris.

Forge, J. (2008). The Responsible Scientist: A Philosophical Inquiry. University of Pittsburgh Press.

Johnson, J (2010). Teaching Ethics to Science Students: Challenges and a Strategy. In: Education and Ethics in the Life Sciences, Rappert, B. (ed.) ANU E Press, 197–213.

Jones, S. M. and A. Edwards (2013). Placing ethics within the formal science curriculum: a case study. In: Frielick, S. et al. (Eds.) Research and Development in Higher Education: the place of learning and teaching, 36 (pp 243-252). Auckland, New Zealand, 1-4 July 2013. http://herdsa.org.au/publications/conference-proceedings/research-and-development-higher-education-place-learning-and-21

Jones, S. M., Yates, B. F. and Kelder, J.-A. (2011). Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Project: Science Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Statement. Sydney: Australian Learning and Teaching Council. http://www.acds-tlcc.edu.au/science-threshold-learning-outcomes-tlos/science-tlos/

Kabasenche W. P. (2014). The Ethics of Teaching Science and Ethics: A Collaborative Proposal. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 15(2), 135–138. https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v15i2.841

Kelder, J.-A., Carr, A. R. and Walls, J. (2017). Evidence-based Transformation of Curriculum: a Research and Evaluation Framework. Paper presented at the 40th Annual Conference of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA), Sydney.

Keiler, K. C., Jackson, K. L., Jaworski, L., Lopatto, D. and Ades, S. E. (2017). Teaching broader impacts of science with undergraduate research. PLoS biology, 15(3), e2001318.

Loughlin, W. (2013). Good Practice Guide (Science) Threshold Learning Outcome 5: Personal and professional responsibility. http://www.acds-tlcc.edu.au/science-threshold-learning-outcomes-tlos/science-threshold-learning-outcomes-tlosscience-tlo-good-practice-guides/

McGowan, A. H. (2013). Teaching Science and Ethics to Undergraduates: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Science and Engineering Ethics, 19, 535–543.

National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research. https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/publications/national-statement-ethical-conduct-human-research-2007-updated-2018

TEQSA (12 December 2018). “Guidance Note – Scholarship” Version 2.5. https://www.teqsa.gov.au/latest-news/publications/guidance-note-scholarship

van Leeuwen, B., Lamberts, R., Newitt, P. and Errington, S. (2012, October). Ethics, issues and consequences: conceptual challenges in science education. In Proceedings of The Australian Conference on Science and Mathematics Education.

This post may be cited as:

Kelder, J., Jones, S., Johnson, E & Botwright-Acuna, T. (18 June 2020) The ethical petri-dish: recommendations for the design of university science curricula Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/the-ethical-petri-dish-recommendations-for-the-design-of-university-science-curricula

When Research is the treatment: why the research/clinical care divide doesn’t always work0

 

Nik Zeps
AHRECS Consultant

Health services are often operated by people who strive to improve the way they deliver care. In the public imagination improvements arise from ‘breakthroughs’ such as the discovery of new disease mechanisms and drugs or devices to address these. However, it is not just novel treatments that lead to better outcomes. Sadly, it is not widely recognised that eliminating sub-optimal practices or variations in healthcare practices play a major role in improving clinical outcomes. Indeed, I don’t recall a headline announcing an increase in operational efficiency in any health service as this is hardly exciting news regardless of its value. Funders of healthcare are interested though, and in a report entitled Exploring HealthCare Variation in Australia: Analyses resulting from an OECD Study, published by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care in 2014, the authors stated that:

Unwarranted variation may also mean that scarce health resources are not being put to best use. As countries face increasing pressure on health budgets, there is growing interest in reducing unwarranted variation in order to improve equity of access to appropriate services, the health outcomes of populations, and the value derived from investment in health care.

All consumers of health care should therefore be interested in this and support those working toward improving health services. Unfortunately doing this work is difficult and often unrewarding. The ethical imperative to do this work is also often thwarted by the ‘ethics’ and governance framework that too often encumbers those doing it {Clay-Williams, 2018 #516}. It is also largely left to the NHMRC to fund Health Services Research (HSR) and the Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER) studies that generate evidence to reduce wasteful practice. In contrast, very little funding from health services themselves go to these activities despite them being the direct beneficiaries of the research.[1] Importantly, those engaged in HSR and CER are becoming an increasingly larger proportion of the total medical research endeavour in Australia, and by classification constituted almost one third of NHMRC competitive funding in 2019[2]. This is despite the fact that the studies undertaken often take several years to complete and therefore the number of publications is smaller than for life sciences. For HSR, publication is rarely in the ‘higher impact’ journals, whereas for some CER Trials the outcomes are so profound that they are of international significance and will be published in widely read international journals. Pleasingly this suggests that the criteria for assessment do not necessarily disadvantage such research in terms of competitiveness for funding, but also reflects the fact that clinical trial funding from the NHMRC supports a great deal of CER studies.

Those doing HSR and CER are also often involved in working in health services as clinicians which reduces the amount of time they can devote to academic research and to build a competitive personal research portfolio. The NHMRC has implemented a “Relative to opportunity” process in an attempt to address the almost impossible task of taking into account personal circumstances, but I doubt anyone is truly comfortable in applying it across the breadth of candidates and disciplines. Indeed, it could be argued that it is a surprisingly unscientific and subjective approach to use in schemes that are rewarding the quality of scientific approaches to address major societal issues. In 2019, only 7% of investigator grants went to applicants identified as HSR researchers.

It is difficult to think of what could replace this system across all areas of scientific endeavour but there is a possibility of rethinking how we fund and manage HSR and CER clinical trials. In both types of activity the end points are focussed on providing evidence to inform changes to clinical practice and health service delivery. As such the end users are health care providers and their funders. It would therefore seem much more appropriate that the end users play a much greater role in judging what kind of research should be done as well as the value of the outcomes of existing projects. The problem with this is that Health Services do not have the internal infrastructure and capability to manage research and have no incentive or means to do so.

What is particularly important to reflect on here is that publication metrics and university-based career milestones are largely irrelevant to the health services and arguably should not be the drivers of why the work is done. It would be more appropriate to have a regular employment relationship between the health services researchers and the health services in a manner that does not differ to clinical safety and quality activities. Sadly, health services have not seen the need to invest in this out of their operating budget and one can see why they would not if universities will do so. The problem though is that health service managers inevitably regard them as academic exercises with no direct relevance to routine health practice and when budgets are tight any support rapidly evaporates.

Like other industries that are reliant on R&D, it could be argued that a defined proportion of all health funding should go to HSR and CER that is conducted and run within the health services themselves. In the UK the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) was established in 2016 with £1 billion to do just this, representing just under 1% of the total National Health Service Budget at the time (£126 billion[3]). The current public expenditure on health in Australia is $81.8 billion AUD, however, the total health spend, including private and personal (out of pocket) expenditure was $185 billion in 2017/2018[4]. The combined NHMRC and MRFF expenditure on all HSR and clinical research is estimated to be around $800million in 2019, less than 0.5% of the total health expenditure. The difference with the UK is that the Australian funding is largely administered through universities and not by the health services as in the UK.

I would propose that researchers engaged in HSR and CER should be employed by the health services themselves and be regarded as intrinsic to the operations of the health service. In addition, I propose that these staff would not publish papers under their own names but instead publish under the health service banners, either singly or as collaborations of organisations. In this way individual career progression would be based upon demonstration of outcomes in the same way that other activities in the health service are evaluated. Staff who do their job well would continue in their employment and be eligible for ongoing employment. Career progression would be through building a demonstrated portfolio of achievement that is attested to by their employers in a similar way that professional references are provided. Success for individuals would therefore be entirely based on being able to show how they had contributed to productive activity within the organisation.

If this major change to operating this type of research was made then it might also change one of the other major barriers that currently exists, the disproportionately burdensome ethical and governance requirements for such ‘research’ which is mostly treated as having the same risk profile as novel interventional studies. The aims of research are stated to differ from those of providing clinical care to patients, and this is at the heart of the Declaration of Helsinki’s ethical principles as well as those known as The Belmont Report published in 1979. In the Australian National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, such a distinction between clinical care and research is no longer identified and not commented on so explicitly.

For HSR and CER the distinction between what is routine practice and what is research is extremely blurred, particularly within the context of a self-improving/self-learning healthcare system in which a constant cycle of analysis of the current status of clinical activity informs the delivery of healthcare into the future. The robust methodologies employed to do the analysis and to test potential alternative practices aimed at improving care are indistinguishable to those used for researching novel and potentially more risky interventions. However, the risk profile is completely different, particularly where the research involves one or more practices already in widespread use. A more embedded framework that ensures that ethical issues are addressed at a systemic level rather than through the existing ethics and governance system that treats such work as ‘other’ is needed. The 2019 draft Clinical Trial Governance Framework developed by the ACSQHC goes some way toward creating a culture in which this can be delivered although it will likely require significant cultural change at most health services engaged in research.

We need a system that values those doing this work as core employees and is directly vested in the outcomes of the work and their implementation into improved practice as the prime demonstration of productivity. Such a cultural change will provide the drive to streamline the overly burdensome regulatory framework that currently exists. Such a framework would deliver its own efficiency dividends in a positive cycle enabling more of this work to be done and an acceleration in avoiding wasteful practice and generation of data that brings real improvements to people’s lives. It would seem that this is the very definition of an ethical outcome.

[1] ACSQHC/ACTA report on clinical trial benefits https://www.safetyandquality.gov.au/publications-and-resources/resource-library/economic-evaluation-investigator-initiated-clinical-trials-conducted-networks-final-report

[2] https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/file/14808/download?token=GAkwLHj0

[3] https://fullfact.org/health/spending-english-nhs/

[4] https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/health-welfare-expenditure/health-expenditure-australia-2017-18/contents/summary

This post may be cited as:

Zeps, N. (04 June 2020) HWhen Research is the treatment: why the research/clinical care divide doesn’t always work Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/when-research-is-the-treatment-why-the-research-clinical-care-divide-doesnt-always-work

It’s the hand you’re dealt: Copyright card games and publishing board games are in!0

Posted by Admin in Research Integrity on December 21, 2019 / Keywords: , , ,
 

Nerida Quatermass | University Copyright Officer | Project Manager, Creative Commons Australia at Queensland University of Technology

As a university copyright officer, I provide copyright information for research and scholarly communication – from ethics applications to publication.

What’s up, Doc?

Copyright questions can often be a manifestation of a larger issue than copyright. For example, a question about the mining or use of Twitter posts while involving third party copyright is also a matter of contract – what use of content is allowed under platform terms. Alternatively, the question might be about copyright, but it’s one where the law doesn’t provide the answer – does the scope of the fair dealing for research exception extend to publication? These types of enquiries illustrate that researchers need to understand copyright and a range of related issues relevant to research and communication.]

Myth-busting

Couple these uncertainties with the fact that there is no harmony in copyright laws between jurisdictions in a global research and communication community, and it means there are sure to be some persistent copyright myths to de-bunk in order to understand what is allowed. For example, the concept of “fair use” of copyright is well known globally and researchers in Australia often ask if the use they want to make of third-party copyright is a “fair use”. They are not aware that they cannot rely on it in Australia and are not generally aware of the “fair dealing” provisions that are available to them. Misinformation combined with limited confident knowledge about re-use rights leave researchers confused and anxious about copyright matters.

Back to basics

The savvy 21st century researcher needs some basic copyright knowledge to feel confident to manage their own copyright, their use of third-party copyright, and related publication matters. Researchers have always been required by traditional publishers to manage copyright, but today funder and institutional requirements for Open Access require a level of knowledge about open licensing and the effect of a Creative Commons licence on communication and reuse.\

Out with the old

Copyright is a pretty dry topic. At Queensland University of Technology, within the Research Support Team I am a member of, a wide range of copyright guidance is available including self-help, workshop and direct enquiry. When we “teach” in traditional workshops I am not confident that transferrable learning occurs in a way that will enable future decision making. In part, I put this down to a lack of engagement in traditionally-delivered workshops and seminars.

Making a game of it

Game play has benefits to adult learning, and this is a direction that copyright education has gone in. The UK Copyright Literacy organisation mantra is “decoding copyright and bringing you enlightenment”. Jane Secker and Chris Morrison (2016) have led the way by creating games which are played in workshops. They have found that the interactivity of a games situation engages learners in training, but is also a drawcard to attend.  Chris and Jane have created two games: Copyright the Card Game which teaches the basics of copyright law and application; and The Publishing Trap which facilitates informed decision making for the research lifecycle including IP and copyright.  Following suit and inspired by this, Tohatoha – Aotearoa New Zealand’s peak open advocacy body have released Creative Commons Release ‘Em Poker – a poker style card game about Creative Commons licensing. This game is correct for all jurisdictions because CC licences are global.

Back to the thorn that is jurisdictional copyright, this year I worked with the Australian Libraries Copyright Committee and a number of librarians to localise Copyright the Card Game to Australian copyright law. The resulting Copyright the Card Came: Australian Edition is correct for Australian law; and it has an Australian look and feel to it.

The proof is in the pudding

This year, Australian librarians and copyright officers have played Copyright the Card Came: Australian Edition in workshops, and professional development programs and at conferences. The feedback has been very positive. The interactive environment and scenario-based play is a positive contribution to learning which has made the copyright workshop a much more enjoyable prospect for teachers and learners.

If you are interested in playing, ask your librarian or copyright officer if they can organise it. Alternatively, all the resources including the card deck and workshop presentation are available online.

A beautiful deck of Creative Commons Release ‘Em Poker cards can be purchased online. Copyright: The Card Game and The Publishing Trap resources can be printed from the websites below.

Copyright the Card Came: Australian Edition

Creative Commons Release ‘Em Poker

The Publishing Trap

Reference

Secker, Jane and Morrison, Chris (2016) Copyright education and training. In: Copyright and E-learning: a Guide for Practitioners. Facet Publishing, London, UK, pp. 211-238. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/67926/1/Secker_Copyright%20education_2016.pdf

This post may be cited as:

Quatermass, N. (21 December 2019) It’s the hand you’re dealt: Copyright card games and publishing board games are in! Research Ethics Monthly. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/its-the-hand-youre-dealt-copyright-card-games-and-publishing-board-games-are-inhttps://ahrecs.com/research-integrity/its-the-hand-youre-dealt-copyright-card-games-and-publishing-board-games-are-in

Fighting Fiction with Fiction: A novel approach to engaging the public in bioethics of medical research0

 

Cathal O’Connell
Centre Manager, BioFab3D, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.
About the laboratory discussed in this post

(Video credit: Benjamin Sheen)

To the surprise of its inventors, the cochlear implant was greeted with protest by some in the Deaf community in the 1980s and early 1990s. This well-known story underlines how important it is for developers of new medical technologies to discuss the potential impacts from all possible angles, and in advance.

As a researcher, I am concerned by the public misconceptions around new technologies which might hamper meaningful conversation.

My field of research is biofabrication, where the goal is to build new tissues to treat or model disease and injury. I have written before about how media sensationalism has distorted the public’s perception of this technology, and how ultimately this may have negative effects on patient consent and other impacts.

Here, I want to focus on another kind of distortion of technology: science fiction.

Public lectures by experts in my field often open with videos cut from science fiction movies and TV shows: Luke Skywalker’s robotic hand, the extruded sinews of an artificial horse from Westworld, the 3D printed heroine from The Fifth Element.

These examples can be effective devices to engage with the public: they provide a familiar touchstone while also generating excitement about how technology is propelling us towards that exotic ‘Future’.

But science fiction can also cast a shadow across active research. It can define how an issue is first framed in the public consciousness and influence the public’s perception and expectation around new technologies. This is most obvious in how the monsters of the Terminator and the Matrix haunt almost every discussion about artificial intelligence.

Recognising the striking power of fiction to frame debate, we at the BioFab3D lab based at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, have recently taken a ‘fight fire with fire’ approach: we have collaborated with artists to create science fiction which realistically portrays the issues around our research.

Last year, BioFab3D teamed up with a local playwright, Rohan Byrne, and theatre production company Playreactive to develop a new science-fiction play, RUR_2020, which explored potential dangers and ethical questions around biofabrication.

Byrne’s play is a reimagining of a sci-fi classic; Rossum’s Universal Robots (or R.U.R) by Karel Čapek. First performed a century ago, R.U.R is famous for being the origin of the word ‘robot’ in English. It might surprise you that Čapek’s robots were not mechanical; they were flesh and blood facsimiles of people. The play is largely set inside a factory where these ‘robots’ are fabricated.

Now with labs like ours being created specifically to build new body parts, actual science research is catching up to this classic sci-fi vision. This motivated us to update RUR for a modern context.

To conceive and write his adaptation, Byrne visited BioFab3D to be immersed in the science; he interviewed lab researchers about the current state-of-the-art and the future of the technology, and studied the bioethical literature on the subject. He also consulted with BioFab3D researchers as the play took shape. The resulting science fiction story was grounded in reality; it was born, in a sense, in a real lab.

And that’s also where it was performed. In August 2018, BioFab3D was transformed from a working laboratory by day into a theatre venue by night. Researchers were always on hand to answer audience questions after each show. The lab thus became a platform for introducing a burgeoning technology, and a forum for discussing the direction this new technology might take in the future.

By all accounts the play was a great success: well received and well attended, across eight sell-out shows (and by a diverse audience of artists and nerds alike; many had never visited a research lab before, some had never attended a live play).   For us researchers, the play had a lasting impact in how it encouraged us to think about the bigger bioethical questions around our work.

Using dystopic fiction for the purpose of science outreach does carry risks, perhaps, of framing the technology in a poor light. We argue that it is critical to be transparent about the disruption that new medical technologies may cause.

In our case, the story was developed in consultation with real biofabrication researchers. The concerns discussed were thus genuine, the fiction itself a springboard for a needed conversation.

As is the nature of performance art, the play lived its moment and was no more. But the conversation lives on.

This post may be cited as:
O’Connell0, C. (31 October 2019) Fighting Fiction with Fiction: A novel approach to engaging the public in bioethics of medical research. Retrieved from: https://ahrecs.com/human-research-ethics/fighting-fiction-with-fiction-a-novel-approach-to-engaging-the-public-in-bioethics-of-medical-research

BioFab3D is Australia’s first hospital-based biofabrication lab dedicated to researching the artificial generation of living human tissues for implantation and medical research. It hosts collaborative efforts between researchers, clinicians, engineers, and industry partners to deliver therapeutic outcomes from cutting-edge science and technology. BioFab3D is a collaborative facility shared by St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, the University of MelbourneRMITSwinburne University and the University of Wollongong. Read more about BioFab3D on their website, biofab3D.org

 

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