Dean's Professor of Bioethics - University of California Davis
How Much Does Biomedical Research Deserve the Public's Trust?
The book I plan to write will pursue multiple related objectives. The first is to stimulate discussion about a basic ethical question: is knowing you deserve trust a moral precondition for soliciting it? The question is relevant because the research community continuously solicits other people’s trust on the one hand and there is compelling evidence showing that trust often may be misplaced on the other. Greater sensitivity within the research community about the ethical implications of soliciting trust might spur greater focus on knowing whether and how that trust is deserved. That focus highlights the second objective: stimulating reflection and dialogue within the research community about what it is, exactly, that makes research deserving of the public’s trust. By proffering the three aforementioned characteristics, people will be able to critique them, as well as determine whether there are additional characteristics of trustworthy research that I have overlooked. The third major objective of the book is to look to what published evidence has to say about the extent to which publications are reliable, research pursues adequate social value, and whether international ethical standards are routinely met in the conduct of research. Those results will make reaching the fourth objective possible: learning what is working and what is not working when it comes to supporting the public’s trust in research that, as Francis Collins has said, is “just essential.”
There are two secondary objectives to note as well, both of which aim to enhance bioethics as a scholarly field. The first is to redirect the focus of the bioethics community away from studying the circumstances under which the public trusts research (or does not) to a fuller explication of the circumstances under which it is actually deserved. By studying when the public trusts research, which is what most people in the field who study trust emphasize, the focus is on knowing when it is enjoyed, which leaves open the possibility that trust is misplaced and undeserved, neither of which are helpful to the long-term viability of biomedical research. A more invigorated research agenda devoted to knowing what makes research deserving of trust in the first place and what the practices are that promote that kind of research is a much more valuable line of inquiry if our goal is to support the public’s trust in research. The other secondary objective is to build more bridges between the bioethics and the meta-research communities. Meta-research is now a healthy sub-discipline within science. The “research on research” that it conducts has done a tremendous job documenting and raising awareness about an extensive range of quality concerns in the published scientific literature about both preclinical and clinical research. However, it has yet to sufficiently highlight the ethical significance of these concerns. My book will help to do this, showing the organic ties between the two fields and how they mutually enhance each other.
Mark Yarborough, Ph.D., joined the UC Davis faculty in March, 2010. He holds the Dean’s Professorship in Bioethics, directs the Clinical Research Ethics Program of the Clinical and Translational Science Center, and is on the faculty of the Bioethics Program. He came to UC Davis to conduct research at the intersection of public trust and biomedical research. He investigates and publishes about various dimensions of trustworthy research practices, including under which circumstances the research community deserves the public’s trust and whether those circumstances routinely obtain. Another area of his current work relates to the ethical implications of quality concerns in biomedical research identified by the field of meta-research, especially concerns related to preclinical research and their ethical consequences for early clinical trials.
Additional scholarly publications of his address a wide range of bioethical issues, such as artificial feeding at the end of life, genetic counseling, human subjects research, insurance underwriting, the role of profit in medicine, purported obligations to participate in research, surrogate decisionmaking in clinical and research settings, and interprofessional ethics education. He has lectured widely; co-founded and directed numerous conferences and annual conference series, contributed to numerous research projects; served on several hospital ethics committees, Institutional Review Boards, and medical genetics advisory committees; and he has worked extensively on ethics curricula for health professions students.