Global Connectedness and Interdependence
This research programme investigates the ethical problems that are generated by growing global connectedness and interdependence. Many of the most significant challenges this programme addresses relate to global co-operation and collective action in response to the threats presented by the rapid movement of people, pathogens, disease, and drug resistance. While global connectedness creates the opportunity for collaborative engagement with these problems, it can also be threatened by what has come to be known as the ‘tragedy of the commons.’ How can global communities be encouraged to co-operate over behaviours that apparently have negligible effects locally but collectively causes immense global harm? This question raises important issues regarding the responsibilities of individuals, governments, and international agencies. It also raises important concerns about the appropriate use of coercion, incentives, and sanctions.
The issues and concerns with which this research programme engages will inevitably be connected to those in genomics and in data science. Growth in computing power and the development of methods for the analysis of data at scale, combined with developments in genomics, have the potential to lead to improvements in our understanding of health and disease and to inform the intelligent use of such knowledge. Together with partners around the world, researchers in the Oxford Big Data Institute are conducting world-leading data-driven research on many of the most pressing problems in global health. This includes research on genomics and infectious diseases, in which current areas of scientific interest include: drug resistance, surveillance, and the evolution and transmission of infectious diseases. The successful and appropriate conduct of such research requires the identification, analysis and resolution of complex and multifaceted practical ethical problems. Many of these relate to the collection and subsequent sharing and uses of health and other data. Other problems concern the collaborative partnerships required for such research and subsequent interventions, which bring together people, institutions and countries with competing interests, motivations and concerns.
Our research pays particular attention to questions of global inequalities, priority-setting, and justice as they arise in the design, conduct, and uses of such research. As data on the global burden of disease improves, how should public health and research priorities be set? How should judgements be made between the aim to improve health overall and the needs of particular, vulnerable, and often neglected groups? What is the role of biomedical research in addressing global health inequalities and meeting development goals?