Fieldlab trials don’t meet ethical standards: Volkskrant

An earlier Fieldlab experiment. Photo: Lauren Comiteau
An earlier Fieldlab experiment, after which 26 people were found to have coronavirus. Photo: Lauren Comiteau

The Fieldlab experiments to test how mass events can be held safely during the pandemic do not follow ethical standards for behavioural research, the Volkskrant said on Wednesday.

The trials, involving up to 8,000 people, are aimed at assessing how people behave in a given situation and as such should fall under the ethical code drawn up by the Dutch Ethics Council for Social and Behavioural Sciences, the paper said.

These rules state, for example, that it should be clear what data is being used, how it was obtained and the role of other interested parties. The rules also state that the methodology should be open to other scientists and that the premises and aims of the project should be known to the participants.

However, the VK points out, the Fieldlabs organisation said on Friday on Twitter that it ‘had no requirement to publish.’ Nor have participants been fully informed about the risks that they run by taking part.

Coronavirus-free events: what you need to know

Groningen University research ethics professor Els Maeckelberghe told the paper that the Fieldlabs experiments are not in line with the ethics council’s provisions.

‘How can you ask people to take part in a coronavirus research project without fully informing them about the way the risks and results would be measured?’ she said.

Open science

Annelien Bredenoord, professor of ethics in biomedical innovation at UMC Utrecht and a D66 senator said the project does not meet the standards of open science.

‘Science is a form of organised criticism,’ she said.This also means that scientists make their methodology and protocols public, so that others can respond to them.’

Experiments to provide information about the safe reopening of society are justified, she said, adding ‘are the risks in proportion to what they deliver?…Poorly designed scientific research is always unethical.’

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