Setting up an ethics of ecosystem research structure based on the precautionary principle

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Ethical practices in ecological field research differ from those in laboratory research in more than the technical setting and the important distinction between population-level and individual-based concerns. The number of stakeholders affected by the conduct of field research is far larger; private landholders, public water utilities, public land managers, local industries, and communities large and small are only some of those who may be impacted. As research review boards move to establish specific ethical practices for field biologists, the process of identifying appropriate standards will affect the degree to which research will ultimately be disrupted. Standards that lead to research protocols that alienate key interests are not likely to be sustainable. Already, standards that have conflicted with the primary values of a key interest have resulted in disruptions to research and scientific progress. One way to manage this problem of deeply competing interests is to avoid the deepest offenses to any relevant interest group in the design of a proposed study. This is an application of the precautionary principle and is likely to generate a more sustainable balance among competing interests. Unfortunately, this process is also likely to be a never-ending, consensus-seeking process. Fortunately, scientists can have enormous influence on the process if they choose to engage in it early. If scientists use their expertise to function as honest brokers among affected interests, their own interest in scientific research progress is likely to be better met.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-62
Number of pages5
JournalILAR Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2013


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