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Does your research need an ethical review?

The checklist that guides you

Published May 23, 2023

Do my studies of people's mobility patterns on footpaths need an ethics review? Using RSO's checklist makes it easier to understand when researchers need to apply for an ethical review.

As a researcher, can I download portraits from social media to train AI in facial recognition? Or do I need an ethical approval? How about interaction studies between heavy robots and humans?

The answer is yes; an ethics review may be required here. If you are going to do research on humans, biological samples, or sensitive personal data, you often need to apply for an ethical review. The Ethics Review Authority handles the examination, not the universities.

"Ethics review is part of the research process and is not to be considered extra work," says Fredrik Karlsson, responsible for ethical issues at RSO (Research Support Office) at KTH.

Fredrik Karlsson

According to Fredrik, the biggest misconception about the ethical review system is that the Swedish regulations are similar to other countries' systems.

"Sometimes, it is confusing in international collaborations or might cause headaches for researchers with research training abroad. According to Swedish law, all research that meets certain criteria must be ethically tested. Requirements for ethical review should never come as a surprise but align with the researchers' ethical intuitions. But sometimes it becomes a concern since the law's wording is not crystal clear."

Fredrik advises researchers to use RSO's checklist to judge whether a research project needs an ethical review. In addition, he wants to encourage the researchers to process ethical problems together in their different research contexts and different channels.

"The formal ethical review is such a channel - even if bound by law and has its shortcomings - but it is usually fruitful for the type of research covered by the procedure."

Text: Anna Gullers

Fredrik Karlsson’s best ethics advice

  1. Before starting a project: Use the checklist for legally required ethics review to check whether you need to conduct an ethics review of the project. To the checklist
  2. Include the costs for the application (and translations, the application must be in Swedish) in the research budget.
  3. If you disagree with the Ethics Review Act, get involved politically to change it. But follow it anyway.
  4. Look out for KTH's Canvas training in research ethics, which will be launched this autumn.

About research ethics at KTH