FSD Bulletin

Issue 30 (2/2010)

ISSN 1795-5262

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FSD Bulletin is the electronic newsletter of the Finnish Social Science Data Archive. The Bulletin provides information and news related to the data archive and social science research.


Finnish Social Science Data Archive
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Ethical Review in Social Sciences and Humanities Starts

Helena Laaksonen

The establishment of ethics committees for the social sciences and humanities is well on its way in Finnish universities. Ten central multi-disciplinary universities have made commitments to comply with the guidelines and proposal for arranging ethical review issued by the National Advisory Board on Research Ethics. In Tampere, a local ethics committee for the social sciences and humanities will start its operations right after the summer holidays.

Besides universities, the ethics committee in Tampere also contains representatives of other organisations involved in SSH research. According to Secretary General Liisa Nieminen of the National Advisory Board on Research Ethics, Helsinki will probably adopt a similar model.

The University of Turku has not yet officially made a commitment to comply with the Advisory Board's guidelines, but preparatory work is underway according to Nieminen. The Tampere model has received support in Turku as well. For the time being, the University of Lapland has not officially committed itself to the guidelines either. On the other hand, the regulations of the University of Lapland assign the task of ethical review to the University Council. Similarly, an ethics committee has existed in the University of Turku already before the guidelines published last year.

"Predicting the number of research projects to be submitted for ethical review is difficult," says Nieminen. In Helsinki, there have been discussions on the possibility of dividing the ethics committee into discipline-specific departments for reducing the workload. In addition, processing applications in various languages might require distribution of work.

According to the proposal of the Advisory Board, the majority of research can still be conducted without ethical review. It would only pertain to some strictly defined research settings, such as research involving an intervention in the physical integrity of subjects or deviating from the principle of informed consent. An ethical review can also be performed if a publisher, funder, or cooperation partner so requires. The proposed system is substantially lighter than for example the one in operation in the United States.

Ethical Review in Tampere

In Tampere, an ethics committee was established at the beginning of May, and its term of office will last until the end of July 2013. The committee includes seven representatives of the University of Tampere, as well as the representatives of other institutes of higher education and research institutes in the region, Tampere University of Technology, Tampere University of Applied Sciences, and the UKK Institute. The committee is chaired by Emeritus Professor of Psychology Markku Ojanen.

The tasks of the committee include organising ethical review in SSH research conducted in universities, institutes of higher education, and research institutes in the region, as well as guiding the development of research ethics by issuing statements.

The SSH ethics committee has agreed on the distribution of work with the Ethics Committee of Pirkanmaa Hospital District. The committee of the hospital district will make statements on research within the scope of ethical review based on the Act on Medical Research. It evaluates all research conducted with its patients or involving interventions in the physical integrity of subjects.

The task of the SSH ethics committee is based on the principles devised by the Advisory Board. The committee issues a statement on the ethical acceptability of a research project based on the material given to it by the researcher requesting the review. The researchers are required to submit for example a research plan, summary, own ethical evaluation on the research, information and material given to research subjects, informed consent form, and data management plan.

Training and Briefing in Autumn

At the beginning of November, the Advisory Board will arrange a seminar on ethical review in the Social Sciences and Humanities. The seminar will be held in Helsinki and it will be targeted at the members of ethics committees in universities and research institutes as well as others interested in the matter. The ethics committee of Tampere will also organise a seminar in autumn.


More information and sources:
» Tampereen yliopisto: Ihmistieteisiin liittyvän tutkimuksen eettinen arviointi. Verkkosivusto: <http://www.uta.fi/tutkimus/etiikka/arviointitmk.html> [viitattu 15.6.2010].
» Ethical principles of research in the humanities and social and behavioural sciences and proposals for ethical review. Helsinki: National Advisory Board on Research Ethics, 2009. Online PDF document: <http://www.tenk.fi/ENG/Publicationsguidelines/ethicalprinciples.pdf> [cited 11.6.2010].
» National Advisory Board on Research Ethics
» Laaksonen Helena (2009). Ethics Review Process Done the American Way. FSD Bulletin, 2/2009. 18.8.2009. Online journal: </en/fsd-bulletin/27/ethics.html> [cited 15.6.2010].