Elliott's ethics of expertise proposal and application: A dangerous precedent

Science and Engineering Ethics 13 (2):139-145 (2007)
In a recent paper in Science and Engineering Ethics (SEE) Elliott proposed an ethics of expertise, providing its theoretical foundation along with its application in a case study devoted to the topic of hormesis. The application is based on a commentary in the journal Nature, and it includes assertions of ethical breaches. Elliott concludes that the authors of the commentary failed to promote the informed consent of decision makers by not providing representative information about alternative frequency estimates of hormesis in the literature, thereby hindering the capacity of the scientific community to promote informed consent relating to chemical regulation. This paper argues that Elliott should have incorporated due process into his system of evaluation. His argument is also seriously deficient technically, in that it misinterprets the toxicological issues, misrepresents the scientific literature with respect to the frequency of hormesis, and incorrectly assesses the extent to which the Nature paper revealed opposing/alternative views on hormesis. Given the seriousness of assertions of noncompliance to ethical norms, there must be procedures to protect those whose ethics were called into question, to fairly evaluate the technical justification for an assertion, and to enable corrections in the event of errors. If a journal is willing to publish assertions that individuals acted in an ethically questionable way, it should be guided by a documented code of ethics and meet a standard of responsibility far greater than normal peer-review processes for papers that do not entail such ethical judgments.
Keywords Hormesis  Risk assessment  Scientific publication policies  Ethics
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DOI 10.1007/s11948-007-9015-8
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