Authority in empirical bioethics

Prof. Stacy Carter1, Prof. Vikki Entwistle2, Prof.  Jackie Leach-Scully3

1Research for Social Change, University of Wollongong, The University Of Wollongong, Australia, 2Centre for Biomedical Ethics, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore, Singapore, 3Policy Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre, School of Geography, Politics and Sociology, Newcastle University, United Kingdom

A dominant problematic for empirical bioethics is the implied relationship between is and ought. At the heart of this problematic are questions about authority in research, which have been relatively neglected. In this paper, we report on work in progress investigating the forms of authority that are assumed or invoked in empirical bioethics projects. We will begin by contrasting several methodologies that are used for empirical bioethics. We then propose three forms of authority that may be assumed or invoked in research practices, and show that these forms of authority are assumed or invoked differently in different methodological traditions. We conclude by connecting our argument about authority to the is-ought tension, and considering how our thinking regarding authority might be reflected in research and reporting practices.


Stacy Carter is Professor and Founding Director of Research for Social Change, a unit for values-based social science research in the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Wollongong.

Vikki Entwistle is Professor and Director of the Centre for Biomedical Ethics, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore.

Jackie Leach-Scully is Professor and Executive Director of the Centre for Policy, Ethics and the Life Sciences in the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University in the UK.