A recent study published in PLOS ONE conducted by Ilse De Waele (formerly REA), David Wizel (REA), and their collaborators from Croatia, analysed ethics issues in Marie Sklodowska Curie Actions (MSCA) proposals submitted under calls of Horizon 2020 (2014-2020). The aim of the study was to explore differences between applicants’ awareness of ethics issues and the opinions of ethics experts conducting the ethics review. Their discoveries highlight a discrepancy between the applicants’ understanding of ethics issues and that of expert reviewers. Their conclusions therefore point to the need for further education and training to be provided to applicants.
Furthermore, their results show that personal data protection is one of the most represented ethics categories indicated among MSCA proposals, especially after 2018 when the GDPR was implemented in the EU. The perceived ‘overkill’ relating to personal data protection issues has the potential to exhaust ethics assessment efforts. The study therefore proposes to separate the data protection assessment from the overall ethics assessment and to involve specialized personal data protection experts in order to solve this issue.
An earlier study published in June of this year in F1000 Research conducted by David Pina (REA) and his collaborators found similar trends. They concluded similarly that within proposals submitted to different Horizon 2020 funding schemes, namely the MSCA and the European Research Council, there is an apparent gap between what applicants identified as ethics issues in grant proposals and those identified by ethics experts during the ethics review.
The study calls for more concrete action to be taken in providing training and the restructuring of research ethics and integrity frameworks at all levels of research in Europe, in order to see more positive results. The authors affirm the need for further research into the process of evaluation of grant proposals and research project execution. This would help to identify critical areas in need of change or improvement. It would also facilitate the preparation for emerging ethical challenges in research in the future and provide support to researchers for dealing with these issues.
De Waele I, Wizel D, Puljak L, Koporc Z (2021) Ethics appraisal procedure in 79,670 Marie Skłodowska-Curie proposals from the entire European HORIZON 2020 research and innovation program (2014–2020): A retrospective analysis. PLOS ONE 16(11): e0259582.
Buljan I, Pina DG and Marušić A. Ethics issues identified by applicants and ethics experts in Horizon 2020 grant proposals. F1000Research 2021, 10:471.
*Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are strictly those of the authors and may under no circumstances be regarded as an official position of the European Research Executive Agency or the European Commission.
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