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One size fits all? The problems of offering ethical guidance to everyone.

Spicker, Paul


Paul Spicker


Ron Iphofen

Dónal O’Mathúna


The conventional wisdom of research ethics has developed from the Nuremberg Code and related guidance about medical research. Complaints about ethical review bodies often reflect the application of rules designed for a quite different kind of research process. ‘Research’ covers a wide range of activities, many of which do not fit the model of research for which research ethics procedures were developed. The criteria that are being used to review research projects do not always sit well with the circumstances in which research is being carried out. Many examples could be given, including rules on competence, voluntary participation and informed consent. These were developed for one field of research, and are being inappropriately generalised to a range of fields. Ethical review cannot be treated as a one-off process, nor resolved by set rules. Ethical consideration has to be seen as an integral part of research and practice. Ethical principles need to take into account the purpose and potential application of the research. Since ethical rules cannot be treated as fixed and predictable, an ethical discourse is needed to ensure that researchers are aware of, and sensitive to, the ethical dimensions of all phases of their work. Ethical issues can arise at every stage of research, from conception and development, to generating proposals, conducting the project and disseminating findings. The key to moral conduct rests, then, not in a single-stage process of review, but in continuous discursive engagement about ethical issues


SPICKER, P. 2023 One size fits all? The problems of offering ethical guidance to everyone. In Iphofen, R. and O'Mathuna, D. (eds.) Ethical evidence and policymaking: interdisciplinary and international research. Bristol: Policy press [online], chapter 2, pages 40-55. Available from:

Online Publication Date Jul 29, 2022
Publication Date Jul 29, 2022
Deposit Date Sep 18, 2023
Publicly Available Date Sep 18, 2023
Publisher Policy Press
Pages 40-55
Book Title Ethical evidence and policymaking: interdisciplinary and international research
Chapter Number 2
ISBN 9781447363972
Keywords Ethics review; Human subjects; Disciplinary competence; Voluntary participation; Informed consent; Virtue ethics
Public URL
Related Public URLs (Individual chapter by Paul Spicker)
Additional Information In addition to this book chapter, Paul Spicker also authored the following:
- SPICKER, P. "Ethical research in public policy", pages 139-150. (


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