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NSF Leads Effort To Make Ethics Resources Available To Researchers

November 13, 2010

A five-year, $5 million grant will create a center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to put research ethics resources at the fingertips of researchers nationwide

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently taken definitive steps to ensure that the science and engineering community has valuable resources at its disposal to make informed, ethical, responsible decisions in research projects and professional practices. After soliciting feedback from the community, NSF has made a five-year, $5 million grant to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to develop a national center for professional and research ethics in science, mathematics and engineering.

“This award will create a great resource for instructors, students and administrators interested in prioritizing high quality ethics training and education. This resource will be the go-to place for people interested in ethics in science and engineering education and research,” said Kelly Joyce, NSF’s Science, Technology, and Society Program director.

The America COMPETES Act requires that “… each institution that applies for financial assistance from the Foundation for science and engineering research or education describe in its grant proposal a plan to provide appropriate training and oversight in the responsible and ethical conduct of research to undergraduate students, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers participating in the proposed research project.” To implement this important act, and to enable universities and researchers to access, implement and teach ethical standards of conduct, NSF identified an opportunity to fund an ethics education online center.

The new online resource center will develop, gather, preserve and provide comprehensive access to resources related to ethics for teachers, students, researchers, administrators and other audiences. As such, it will provide information and expertise for instructors who teach ethics, students with questions about research integrity, researchers and engineers who encounter ethical challenges in practice, administrators in universities and businesses who oversee ethics and compliance policies, scholars who conduct research on professional and research ethics, and others with questions or interests in these areas.

The center, part of the Coordinated Science Laboratory (CSL), an interdisciplinary research laboratory in the College of Engineering at Illinois, will draw on the University’s collective strength in engineering, digital library technologies, mathematics, medicine, business and law, among other fields. The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign will partner with Howard University, the National Academy of Engineering, and Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R) to develop content for the site. The center will also invite ethics in science and education researchers and educators to contribute.

“Almost everybody wakes up every day and wants to do the right thing,” said Center Director C. K. Gunsalus, CSL research professor and professor of business. “Many people who face ethical dilemmas know the general principles but not necessarily how to apply them in the complexity that real-life professional and research practice present. The Center seeks to create an online environment that encourages the life-long development of ethical practices through materials and interaction with other professionals.”

Image Caption: The new online resource center will develop, gather, preserve and provide comprehensive access to resources related to ethics for teachers, students, researchers, administrators and other audiences. Credit: © 2010 Jupiter Images Corporation

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