Big Data for Biomedical Research and Personalised Medicine: an Epistemological and Ethical Cross-Analysis

Human and Social Studies. Research and Practice 6 (3):13-36 (2017)
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Abstract

Big data techniques, data-driven science and their technological applications raise many serious ethical questions, notably about privacy protection. In this paper, we highlight an entanglement between epistemology and ethics of big data. Discussing the mobilisation of big data in the fields of biomedical research and health care, we show how an overestimation of big data epistemic power – of their objectivity or rationality understood through the lens of neutrality – can become ethically threatening. Highlighting the irreducible non-neutrality at play in big data tools, we insist upon the ethical importance of a critical epistemological approach in which big data are understood as possibly valuable only when coupled with human intelligence and evaluative rationality.

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