Ethics CORE: A New Home for Ethics on the Web

by Megan Hayes Mahoney, Visiting Digital Library Research Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

In 2010, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) began work on a multi-year project designed to make ethics information and training resources readily accessible to those working in the fields of science and engineering. PRIM&R was honored to be a part of the effort, which was supported by a grant awarded to UIUC by the National Science Foundation (NSF). PRIM&R contributed encyclopedia entries for commonly used terms in human subjects and animal research, as well as a listing of exemplary research forms, policies, manuals, and checklists related to conducting research with human subjects and animals. The resulting website, Ethics CORE, which was formally launched in September of this year, provides a wealth of resources for educating scientists about ethics. We are incredibly pleased to share with you this piece from Megan Hayes Mahoney, visiting digital library research librarian at UIUC. We hope that it will help acquaint you with this new, invaluable resource. 

The field of medical research has been engaged in dialogue about ethics for a number of years, driven by major events such as the United States Public Health Service syphilis study in Tuskegee, Alabama (1932-1972) and the resulting Belmont Report in 1979. Increasingly, questions of research and professional ethics have also arisen in other branches of scientific research. Ethics CORE, or the Ethics Collaborative Online Resource Environment, was created as a forum for this dialogue.

The development of Ethics CORE started soon after the 2007 America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Act was passed. This act requires, among other things, that “each institution that applies for financial assistance from the [National Science] Foundation (NSF) for science and engineering research or education describe in its grant proposal a plan to provide appropriate training and oversight in the responsible and ethical conduct of research to undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers participating in the proposed research project” (42 USC 1862o-1). Because there was no singular, trusted source to which scientists seeking NSF funding could turn for educational resources, scholarly literature, or best practices to facilitate the development of ethics training plans, the NSF decided to create one.

With this prerogative and some NSF funding, our team got to work and created Ethics CORE, a hybrid of digital library and social media software that combines access to resources with forums for discussion about those materials. The digital library contains videos, syllabi, articles, and case studies that we have collected or were contributed by users. Our resources have ratings and comments features, which allow registered Ethics CORE community members to evaluate materials and recommend them to one another. Ethics CORE also has a full-text searchable archive of records and links to materials available through other institutions, thus allowing all users to discover and print electronic materials beyond our resources. Similarly, the Ethics CORE has a special search feature that scours the Scopus database for peer-reviewed ethics research while simultaneously looking for books, other Ethics CORE materials, and Google items on the search topic. Our goal was to create a resource that brings information from many places into one collection so that users can find everything they need in one space.

Anyone can join Ethics CORE, which has many features that make connecting with others easy. Once registered, a user can email other users, create a blog, read a blog, join interest groups, create an interest group, and even have live discussions with other users. One group, Sustainability Ethics, consists of members from two different universities who use Ethics CORE as a digital learning space for playing and discussing environmental resource simulation games. This type of collaboration would be more difficult in an environment associated with a single institution. Our tech team has also created special features, such as a live group chat space, in response to specific groups’ needs. Ethics CORE runs on open source software that can be adapted to respond to user needs. We are here to serve you and other scientists as you advance your understanding of research ethics and build a strong community of responsible researchers.

We invite the PRIM&R community to come explore Ethics CORE!