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It is with great interest that I read Doherty et al.’s commentary in which the authors express concern about the ethical appropriateness of a randomised controlled trial that had received ethical approval. Doherty et al.’s study serves as a valuable reminder that a study is not ethical simply because it has received ethical approval, as previous studies have also emphasised.1 One might also add that just because a study has reported having obtained ethical approval, it cannot be assumed that the study has adhered to the recommendations of the research ethics committee or informed the committee of its plans in full. Doshi (2020) reported on bioethicist Charles Wiejer’s concern that a randomised controlled trial of malaria vaccine Mosquirix had waived the requirement of informed consent.2 Weijer was quoted as saying “It is difficult to see how a research ethics committee could have approved a waiver of consent for the WHO malaria vaccine pilot cluster randomized trial.”2 These studies raise the question of whether academic journals should play a greater role in scrutinising the ethical appropriateness of studies submitted for publication?
As a doctoral student with a keen interest in public health ethics, I previously attended weekly editorial board meetings of a major scientific journal with the sole purpose of interrogating the submitted studies for ethical issues. In these meetings, I raised serious questions about some of the studies that had r...
As a doctoral student with a keen interest in public health ethics, I previously attended weekly editorial board meetings of a major scientific journal with the sole purpose of interrogating the submitted studies for ethical issues. In these meetings, I raised serious questions about some of the studies that had received ethical approval, which were typically met with shared concern. Whilst the editorial board had numerous scientific experts examining the study designs and methodologies, they did not have a dedicated ‘ethics expert’ responsible for appraising the ethical appropriateness of the submitted studies. The experience left me with doubt that the editorial team had the interest or capacity to proficiently identify ethical issues in the papers submitted for publication.
Doherty et al.’s commentary together with similar published concerns and my own experiences have left me wondering: is it time to explore the pros and cons of appointing ‘ethics experts’ to the editorial boards of peer-reviewed journals?
Dr Robert Torrance
1. Attarwala, H. TGN1412: From Discovery to Disaster. JYP 2010;2:332.
2. Doshi, P. WHO’s malaria vaccine study represents a “serious breach of international ethical standards.” BMJ 2020.368.