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This paper attempts to open debate about the nature of and need for ethical review of health-related social science research. Drawing upon personal experience and anecdotal reports we describe some of the problems social scientists and ethics committee members may encounter when social science research is reviewed by Multicentre and Local Research Ethics Committees. We argue that the boundary between research methods and ethics is ambiguous and flexible, and that ethics therefore permeates research at all levels from the construction of the research question to the ways in which data are collected and disseminated. We suggest that the dissatisfaction both sides may experience may be mitigated by more communication and a willingness to understand the others’ definition of what counts as ethics and how research is organized and executed. We conclude that ethical review has great potential to strengthen research, and that we must work hard to avoid a situation in which ethical review is seen as just a bureaucratic exercise. © 2006, Royal Society of Medicine Press. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Clinical Ethics

Publication Date





109 - 113