Animal science

Facilitating Ethical Reflection Among Scientists Using the Ethical Matrix

K.K. Jensen, E.-M. Forsberg, C. Gamborg, K. Millar & P. Sandøe (2011) 
Science and Engineering Ethics. Springer. 


Several studies have indicated that scientists are likely to have an outlook on both facts and values that are different to that of lay people in important ways. This is one significant reason it is currently believed that in order for scientists to exercise a reliable ethical reflection about their research it is necessary for them to engage in dialogue with other stakeholders. This paper reports on an exercise to encourage a group of scientists to reflect on ethical issues without the presence of external stakeholders. It reports on the use of a reflection process with scientists working in the area of animal disease genomics (mainly drawn from the EADGENE EC Network of Excellence). This reflection process was facilitated by using an ethical engagement framework, a modified version of the Ethical Matrix. As judged by two criteria, a qualitative assessment of the outcomes and the participants’ own assessment of the process, this independent reflective exercise was deemed to be successful. The discussions demonstrated a high level of complexity and depth, with participants demonstrating a clear perception of uncertainties and the context in which their research operates. Reflection on stakeholder views and values appeared to be embedded within the discussions. The finding from this exercise seems to indicate that even without the involvement of the wider stakeholder community, valuable reflection and worthwhile discourse can be generated from ethical reflection processes involving only scientific project partners. Hence, the previous assumption that direct stakeholder engagement is necessary for ethical reflection does not appear to hold true in all cases; however, other reasons for involving a broad group of stakeholders relating to governance and social accountability of science remain.

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Scientific uncertainty - how should it be handled in relation to scientific advice regarding animal welfare issues?

By P. Sandøe, B. Forkman & S. B. Christiansen
Animal Welfare. UFAW. 2004


The provision of advice on animal welfare is an important part of the work of scientists in applied ethology, neurophysiology, veterinary epidemiology and other disciplines. Those who request guidance often expect advice that will help them to make progress in difficult discussions. Scientists want to live up to these expectations, but it is also important for them to clarify any scientific limitations. They are normally aware of limits to their advice, but these limits are sometimes not explicitly stated. Using the phrase broadly, we call this kind of limitation 'scientific uncertainty'.

We distinguish between the following four types of uncertainty: 1) Ontological uncertainty, relating to the existence of animal feelings and other states relevant for animal welfare. 2) Conceptual uncertainty, stemming from the fact that some of the concepts used in animal welfare science are value-laden if used outside a narrow scientific context. 3) Lack of scientific evidence, stemming from a lack of scientific data on the problem in question. 4) Uncertainty about priorities, relating to the practical conclusions to be drawn in a situation with an open-ended set of ethical and other practical considerations. Scientific uncertainty is unavoidable. It is therefore essential, when giving scientific advice, to state the assumptions on which the advice is based. This makes scientific advice more objective, but also of more limited value to those who do not share the underlying assumptions.

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