Animal Care Ethics in Citizen Science: My Conundrum

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Source: Scientific American

 By Caren Cooper

 

Black-necked stilts. Photo by Denise Greaves.

Black-necked stilts. Photo by Denise Greaves.

Several recent blog posts and a session at Scio13 (discussed here) have addressed ethical issues in citizen science. Ethics in research is taken extremely seriously in academia: every single research project that involves human subjects gets reviewed by an independent committee (an Institutional Review Board, IRB) before it begins.

When citizen science involves human subjects, it has to play by the same rules – even when it seems like there is no possible ethical conflict. When projects don’t follow these steps, it can come back to haunt them – a recent example is the crisis for uBiome, who have been heavily criticized because they did not seek IRB review of their research protocols before they began recruiting participants to submit samples of the human microbiome. Research on animals comes under similarly strict ethical review, and so the recent uBiome kerfuffle had me wondering about how to handle my ethical responsibilities in a new citizen science project I’m about to launch with birds.

In the expanding scope of citizen science, thousands of natural history projects involve vertebrates. At the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, our citizen science projects enlist tens of thousands of volunteers in following protocols that range from tallying birds in the woods to tallying eggs in a nest. The protocols for these projects have been reviewed and approved by Cornell’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to ensure we’re in accordance with all applicable federal, state and local regulations on human safety and humane treatment of animals.

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This entry was posted in Amateur Science, Best Practices, Biology, Ethics, Ornithology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Animal Care Ethics in Citizen Science: My Conundrum

  1. Marky says:

    One of the most aggravating pharmaceutical jobs was dealing with outside labs, especially those that dealt with animal testing. Sometimes, the outside labs would say the animal testing requested was unethical. Our reply- Tell the FDA, they require the test.

    There is little consistency on ethics. Everyone should get on the same page before things get more out of hand.

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