Information is the real product of science and can be the source of great power. Sometimes, this means lifesaving medical treatments such as antibiotics and immunisation. Other times, the community may hold valid concerns about the use of such power. Similarly, science is fundamentally driven by curiosity and the temptation to 'see what happens' is often stronger than the desire to understand the consequences. Since science is fraught with ethical debates and dilemmas, it is important for scientists to have access to the latest ethical debates and policies. Making this possible was the focus of one EU-funded project. The ETHICSWEB project was essentially a large database, connecting disparate information sources via a single, easy-to-search (but sophisticated) multilingual interface. The project is now complete in terms of establishment, and presently includes 27 renowned databases and about 500 000 records in total. It has become the world's largest provider of scientific ethics information. The purpose of the undertaking was to foster democratic debate in Europe. Project goals were primarily technical, and thus its achievements in the final reporting period have also been technical. These cover operational matters concerning establishing and administering the database and its search functionality, issues which were successfully resolved. ETHICSWEB's web portal constitutes the project's focal point, which is now operational and provides more than just a searchable database. It also offers a dynamic authoring environment, a place for partners to coordinate their work via dedicated forums, and a safe repository for public and non-public documents. One of the project's primary aims was to evolve a means of permanently administering and maintaining the project. Without this, all the project's work would be lost. While the long-term maintenance responsibilities remain unclear, ETHICSWEB has established interim temporary measures. With the information structures in place, this valuable tool will facilitate the democratic discussion of ethics in science. The portal receives some 400 hits per day, and will continue growing.
Inter-connected European Information and Documentation System for Ethics and Science: European Ethics Documentation Centre
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