‘A Democratic Problem’: 2,000 Swedish Researchers Rebel Against Ethics Review

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 / Go to the mediabankResearcher checking glass tubes / Go to the mediabankInternationalIndiaAfricaThe current arrangement with obligatory ethics review has been slammed as “incredibly formal and bureaucratic,” making a large part of social research “impossible to carry out.”Thousands of Swedish researchers have signed a petition to the parliament to change the current system of the country’s obligatory ethics review as detrimental to science and a roadblock to progress.The petition, which has so far gathered over 2,000 signatures, warns about the unreasonable side effects of the current arrangement with the Ethics Review Authority and the Ethics Appeals Board greenlighting research in many areas such as social issues. Delays and rejections are not uncommon, which is why the petition calls the current system an “urgent threat to Swedish social sciences and humanities“.According to the Ethics Review Act, research that includes “sensitive personal data” or personal data about crimes must be ethically reviewed in advance. While journalists are free to request documents or use openly published material, researchers must seek permission from the Ethics Review Authority and await a decision on whether the project is approved.”The current system makes a large part of social science research impossible to carry out,” Carl Ohman, assistant lecturer in political science at Uppsala University and the man behind the initiative, said in a statement. Ohman described the Swedish system of ethical review as “incredibly formal and bureaucratic” and divorced from scientific reality, as it hampers quick follow-up research.For instance, he recently planned to study political satire on Tiktok and wanted to investigate who is more prone to becoming its target, female or male politicians, and whether political affiliation matters.

"When I wrote the application, I suddenly realized that I asked the state for permission to write which party affiliation top US politicians have, then I felt that we simply cannot have it this way. There must be a change. That's why I wrote this letter," Ohman explained to Swedish media.

According to Ohman, this issue poses a problem for democracy because researchers are placed in a position making it difficult to scrutinize those in power or even use publicized material such as parliamentary bills or party leader debates, without first applying to the ethics review.The signatories called for the research community to be given greater confidence in handling ethical issues on personal data without the involvement of an external authority.Ohman called it “very depressing” that the state doesn’t trust highly educated professionals to make their own considerations, and instead chooses to control them by an outside government authority.WorldSenior Sweden Democrat: Culture War is On, ‘Decadent Left’ Will LoseYesterday, 06:17 GMTEarlier in May, political scientists Peter Esaiasson and Jacob Sohlberg sounded the alarm about the ethics system in an opinion piece. Among others, they shared their experience of rejection, when seeking official clearance to interview the residents of Gothenburg’s blighted areas about social issues.”An all-powerful and arbitrary Ethics Review Authority is an obstacle to research. In successful research nations, ethical issues are handled internally within the universities. <…> Active researchers have other things to do than worry about the capricious exercise of authority,” they wrote.Academic Rights Watch, a group that monitors academic freedom, previously rang the alarm bells over “a lack of objectivity and impartiality” in the Ethics Appeal Board’s proceedings. Critics have also castigated the system as overtly politically correct and having a left-wing bias.The petition will be sent to the parliament or members of the relevant committees on May 15.


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