VUB launches Ethics Casebook, a unique practical guide on ethics

VUB launches Ethics Casebook, a unique practical guide on ethics

Ethics Week 2019 at Vrije Universiteit Brussel

From 2 to 6 December VUB is organising Ethics Week. The initiative, taking place for the third time, presents a series of thought-provoking activities about ethics in scientific research aimed at the university’s students, researchers and anyone who would like to stay informed about research ethics in an ever-changing world. This year’s programme includes a discussion session and an adapted menu in the VUB restaurant with ethically charged meals. On the occasion of this themed week, the Ethics Casebook will also be launched with 50 very real and concrete ethical dilemmas from various research areas.

The VUB Ethics Casebook is the first of its kind in Belgium and consists of two parts: a textbook and a guidebook. The textbook paints a research dilemma and provides four possible ways to respond to it. The guidebook then provides the solution and explains the specific problems of the theme, the legislation and additional questions and suggestions for discussion possibilities.

John Pearson, ethics and research integrity advisor at VUB’s Legal & Ethics Office, which developed the casebook, explains: “The dilemmas in the Ethics Casebook are concrete issues that researchers regularly encounter. For example, the case in which an investigator witnesses a murder during an anthropological investigation in a dangerous neighbourhood. Should one report this and thus risk the investigation – the trust that he has built up? Or if an engineer develops a drone for humanitarian purposes and notices that security services are also interested in her work. The Ethics Casebooks are currently being distributed among VUB professors and will be used in lectures in the coming week and beyond.”

Food for thought

Students and scientists will also literally have ethics on their plate in the coming week, as Ethics Week includes a restaurant campaign. Every day, VUB’s student restaurant is serving an ‘ethically charged’ meal with ingredients that pose an ethical problem – for example, the way in which they end up on our plates. Today, cod was on the menu, raising the question of the extent to which fishing is ethical.  

Golden bananas

Finally, throughout the week there will be eight discussion sessions on a variety of topics, such as publication pressure, bias in the drafting of research questions or ethical issues relating to artificial intelligence and genetic manipulation. On Tuesday evening there will also be a science bar in the centre of Brussels on that theme: can science create a ‘golden banana’ that is resistant to all diseases in order to prevent food shortages?

For more information about the programme, see

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