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Jennings, S. (2012). Response to Schrag: What are ethics committees for anyway? A defence of social science research ethics review. Research Ethics, 8(2), 87–96. https://doi.org/10.1177/1747016112445423


Zachary Schrag would like to put the burden of proof for continuation of research ethics review in the Social Sciences on those who advocate for research ethics committees (RECs), and asks that we take the concerns that he raises seriously. I separate his concerns into a principled issue and a number of pragmatic issues. The principled issue concerns the justification for having research ethics committees; the pragmatic issues concern questions such as the effectiveness of review and the expertise of the committee members. I argue that RECs can be justified by their role in improving ethical practice and in reducing wrongs done to research participants. I propose a model of review for doing this, which I think would also address the pragmatic issues raised. I then offer an account of where the UK ethics review system is now and suggest three steps which could improve social science ethics review in the UK and move it in a perhaps more desirable direction.