Ethics, boys and girls

November 12, 2004

Ethics, boys and girls Surely it is more of a cause for celebration than regret that the majority of UK universities have managed to put up such resistance to the ill-considered movement to replicate the important role of ethical review in relation to clinical or animal research in other areas ("Ethics scrutiny found wanting", November 5).

Free inquiry in the social sciences is as fundamental to a democratic society as a free press. It is not hard to imagine the outrage that would no doubt be provoked if anyone suggested that journalists should obtain prior approval for every contact with an informant.

This, however, is precisely what some interests are trying to impose on the social sciences and humanities.

The result will be to perpetuate inefficient, ineffective and occasionally corrupt practices by handicapping disinterested scholarly inquiry relative to that of partisans or propagandists.

The Nuffield Foundation's suggestion that more review is a "constructive development" seems wholly inconsistent with its distinguished tradition of supporting innovative and adventurous research that has frequently discomfited the same established interests who are seeking to shackle free scholarship.

Robert Dingwall
Nottingham

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