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Trust and Ethics in e-Science: Agenda-Setting Workshop

Date & Time:
10:30:00 - 16:30:00,
Monday 11 September, 2006


Background to the workshop

As e-science research initiatives and collaborations develop rapidly across an ever-widening range of disciplines, disciplinary boundaries and settings, it becomes clear that trust and related ethical values are going to be crucial factors in the long-term viability and sustainability of e-science collaborations. It is also increasingly apparent that the viability of e-science requires considerable investment in security mechanisms and trust-encouraging architecture in tandem with the development of complementary user-centred understandings of the issues of trust and ethics.

Significant trust-related concerns have been raised by potential users of e-science tools with respect to their confidence in both the reliability of the ethic-related performance and security of the infrastructure, and trust in the work practices of potential collaborators in relation to ethical issues such as confidentiality and proper use of data and resources. This suggests a need to:

  • explore perceptions of trust, and emerging trust practices in e-science

  • identify barriers to and factors that promote the development of trust in e-science systems

  • design e-science tools that are informed by and engaged with these practices

In e-science development there is a difficult balance to strike between creating information resources for use in research, and the need to protect people from the inappropriate use of information about them or originating with them. If systems are designed too tightly, they may rule out research that is clearly in the public interest, becoming rigid, inflexible and difficult to use at the practical level. If they are too loose, they may lead to practices that fail to enshrine respect for key ethical values and norms, potentially undermining public trust in research itself.

There is therefore, currently a real need for high quality research into the ethical and trust-related issues likely to arise in the collaborative use of e-science tools and into questions of how issues of distributed access, disclosure and anonymity in large scale data repositories are to be managed. Key to this will be to understand how potential users of e-science technologies, particularly in the health domain, orient to ethical and trust issues in the course of their work — that is, how ethical practices and values are themselves distributed in e-science. It is already clear that collaborations, data sharing and data re-use supported by e-science are creating a number of grey areas and new practices where it is not clear what the ethical implications for researchers and their subjects are going to be. There is a pressing need to gain a better understanding of the ethical dimensions of e-science practice and the ethics-related obstacles faced by researchers in e-science, and to make recommendations regarding how these can be addressed by means of working practices, design choices, and interactions with data subjects.

The workshop is the first part of a strategy to investigate these problems by bringing together potential and actual users, developers and representatives of data subject groups to begin to achieve an understanding of the ethical implications and barriers of e-science for their own practices, and the specific issues that emerge in specific contexts.

Workshop outline

The overall aim of this workshop will be to explore fairly broadly, the landscape of ethical and trust related issues arising in e-science by means of open-ended, case-based discussion. It is hoped that this workshop will be followed up with in-depth exploration of one or two themes identified, perhaps through a second workshop.

Pre-workshop preparation

Before the workshop, participants will be asked, by means of a very brief pre-workshop questionnaire, to suggest issues and case-examples they have encountered in their work or consider to be important. The questionnaire will be analysed, and discussion at the workshop will begin with an outline of the main issues raised, and structures as an exploration of the most common themes.

Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC)

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  • Dr Marina Jirotka
  • Name: Dr Marina Jirotka|Dr Annamaria Carusi|Professor Michael Parker
  • Affiliation: University Lecturer in Requirements Engineering, Computing Laboratory,
    University of Oxford|Research Officer, Computing Laboratory, University of Oxford|Director, Ethox Centre
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