HBP Ethics Support team in May 2019

Would you like to join the HBP Ethics Support team to be a research assistant and do your PhD? We currently have two positions open. Application deadline is 9 January and you can read the advertisement and apply for these positions here.

Successful applicants will join the interdisciplinary and international HBP team at the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, De Montfort University (Leicester, UK). They will assist research and practice of the team working on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), ethics, research infrastructure, compliance, data governance and protection, dual use and Artificial Intelligence in the Human Brain Project (HBP). This is an opportunity to do a PhD by working on collaborative scientific publications on the topics related to ethics and RRI research and practice in the HBP. Indicative research topics are provided below. Successful candidates will be expected to develop their specific research proposals within the thematic areas outlined below and will receive support for doing that. If you have any questions, please get in touch with us ethicsdialogues@dmu.ac.uk 

Additionally, we currently have an open Project Officer position. Application deadline is 6 January and you can read more about it and apply here

Possible PhD research topics:

1.Challenges of building responsible European Research Infrastructure for brain research

Research Question: How can European Research Infrastructure for brain research be developed and maintained according to the principles of Responsible Research and Innovation?

What can it learn from existing research infrastructures in Europe and beyond for incorporating principles of RRI? Incorporating RRI in research infrastructure would be a novel approach. The closest example in existing research infrastructures (mostly those in life sciences such as biobanks) is implementing ethical, social and legal aspects in their work. Incorporation of RRI in research infrastructure can learn from these experiences but also has to go beyond them. What are conditions, challenges and requirements (organizational, financial, etc.) for that? This is a priority topic for the years to come to support turning the HBP into the brain research infrastructure EBRAINS.

2. Comparative study of AI & data ethics across countries and regions – similarities and differences

Research Question: Are AI and data governance and ethics converging or diverging around the world?

Based on policy documents on AI and data adopted in recent years by national governments, international organizations, civil society and consultancies, this study will analyze similarities and differences from around the world. Do these documents show the importance of regional, national and local regulations, norms, values and cultures? Or do we see increasing global convergence? What are patterns of global competition and collaboration? Do we see initiatives of global governance emerging? What are specific questions related to the application of AI in health and the relationship between neuroscience and AI?

3. Towards an EU Ethical Code for  Neuroscience?

Research question: Is it necessary to develop EU Ethics Code for Neuroscience?

While neuroscience and neurotechnology research and innovation in Europe (as in other parts of the world) is fast developing, the EU has not yet developed a specific code for RRI or ethics guidelines for neuroscience and neurotechnology field as it has been the case for other areas (e.g. EU Code of Conduct for Responsible Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies Research or recent Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI). EU is funding neuroscience research via its Framework Programmes (FP) and that research has to comply with FP regulations e.g. exclusive civil focus. But is that sufficient? Other international bodies, e.g. OECD has started to develop work on RRI in neuroscience and neurotechnology. Should the EU set out its own guidelines and regulations in this area based on its values? Could the HBP as the major EU initiative lead the way based on the work done by its Ethics and Society team on dual use, RRI, etc? Who are the other main EU actors in this field (e.g European Brain Research Council, European Brain Research Area) and what are their views?

4. Assessing the impact of European Neuroscience research infrastructure on neuroscience research and society

 Research Question: What are the impacts of a European Neuroscience research infrastructure on neuroscience research and society?

 In the last few years, the development of a Neuroscience Research infrastructure represents an important research investment in the EU. There is also an increasing need for policy makers and the RI management to justify this investment. The question remains, what value does the RI provide for the scientific community and society? A Neuroscience RI can potentially contribute to a variety of scientific and societal impacts. These are the results of the visions, goals, choices and organizational activities of the RI management. This research will evaluate/assess these governance aspects in the development of the EU neuroscience RI- EBRAINS, to unpack the scientific and social impacts.

5. International Data Governance

Research Question: How can international (neuro?) science data governance be conducted responsibly and ethically?

Modern science relies upon the free-flow of data across geographical boundaries. Researchers from different ethical, cultural and political context collaborate to achieve their scientific aims, but the friction between their local contexts and their international requirements may cause problems  – what barriers exists which might hamper this work? What common ground can be found on the more contentious subjects in data ethics? The candidate that takes up this subject could determine in which context (legal, ethical, political) they choose to approach this topic, and whether they want to focus on specific jurisdictions (European, US, China etc).

6. Alternatives to local research ethics

Research Question: Are Institutional Review Boards and Research Ethics Committees sufficient for modern international ethics requirements? Exploration of the Possibility of International Ethics Standards.

When researchers engage with science on the global stage they are expected to pull double-duty on research ethics: first they must gather ethical approval from their local institution – not necessarily simple process –  and, second, this approval must serve to demonstrate compliance at an international level. How can local ethics processes be improved to cater to the modern requirements of international science? What are the requirements that make this two-stage process necessary, and what are the prospects for a set of international standards which might make it obsolete?

7. Data protection by design and default in international neuroscience research infrastructure

Research question: What does data protection by design and default mean for international neuroscience research infrastructures and how can this be achieved?

Article 27 of the General Data Protection Regulation (Regulation EU 2018/1725 of the European Parliament and of the Council) requires the integration of data protection by design and default to ensure the protection of natural persons with regards to data processing. Among other things, this regulation recommends measures like pseudo-anonymisation of personal data, transparency in processing of personal data, and minimisation of processing of personal data. With the fast-growing pace and increasingly collaborative nature of neuroscience research that includes development of unique ICT based infrastructure for brain research, it is important to understand how this legal requirement is being implemented, and what lessons can be learned.

The aim is to develop a best practice framework for data protection by design and default in international neuroscience research infrastructures that aligns with the principles of responsible research and innovation (RRI). 

8. Research Privilege and Accountability in Scientific Research

Research question: What does scientific research privilege mean and how can this be achieved in conjunction with the new accountability principle? 

The General Data Protection Regulation provides derogations for scientific research under Article 89 subject to appropriate safeguards. With the new provision of accountability under Article 5(2), data controllers are now required to demonstrate compliance with data protection principles. This creates a tension of balancing the competing interests of research and innovation with privacy and data protection. The aim of this research is to uncover the principle of accountability under the GDPR and how this can be legally achieved while still maintaining the fundamental concept of research privilege.

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