Source: Scientific American
Â By Caren Cooper
SeveralÂ recentÂ blogÂ postsÂ andÂ a session at Scio13 (discussedÂ 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 â€“ even when it seems like there is no possible ethical conflict. When projects donâ€™t follow these steps, it can come back to haunt them â€“ 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 Iâ€™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 Cornellâ€™s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to ensure weâ€™re in accordance with all applicable federal, state and local regulations on human safety and humane treatment of animals.