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Journal of Long-Term Effects of Medical Implants

ISSN Print: 1050-6934
ISSN Online: 1940-4379

Journal of Long-Term Effects of Medical Implants

DOI: 10.1615/JLongTermEffMedImplants.v17.i1.10
pages 1-12

Beyond Responsible Conduct in Research: New Pedagogies to Address Macroethics of Nanobiotechnologies

Daniel A. Vallero
Duke University, Durham, NC 27708


A team of engineers, scientists, ethicists, and educational specialists are enhancing Duke University's Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) program to ensure that graduate-level researchers in emerging fields are adequately prepared when confronted with macroethical issues associated with applications of new and emerging medical technologies. The focus is on nanoscale laboratory research conducted in the Center for Biologically Inspired Materials and Material Systems and the Center for Biological Tissue Engineering. Most present RCR programs address methodological ethics of the individual researcher or practitioner (i.e., microethical) issues, analogous to Kohlberg's theory of moral development. The resultant model from this project is the basis for departmental, center, and other more targeted ethical challenges stemming from research in emerging technologies, designed to provide comprehensive RCR training. The research successfully identified new ways of teaching students about macroethical issues (i.e., those that affect society). Three main dimensions of ethics in nanotechnology-related research are being stressed, namely, awareness, ethical decision making, and behavior. Workshops appear to enhance awareness of the ethical issues associated with emerging technologies. To date, attempts to affect decision making have been difficult, although in this study workshops were an effective means of identifying strategies to address ethical issues. A principal lesson learned has been the importance of providing a context for macroethical issues. For example, the workshop where an expert presented the technical aspects of environmental consequences of carbon nanotubes led to statistically significant differences between pre- and postworkshop understanding of societal risks. Conversely, in a workshop without the technical introduction, little difference was observed. This indicates that the stage of students' ethical understanding is an important determinant of effectiveness of the education method needed.