Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
SLA Report: Barbara J. Arnold
Scientific Research: A Source for Ethical Controversies
Four divisions teamed up to provide an excellent look at a broad range of issues and ethical questions associated with scientific research: When Scientific Research and Ethics Collide: Exploring the Controversy. There were three presenters: David Magnus from the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics; Deborah Blum, University of Wisconsin (UW)-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication; and Doris Goldstein, Georgetown University National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature. The session was introduced and moderated by Fred Roper, Dean, University of South Carolina College of Library and Information Science. It started with an overview, gave an example of one scientist's research methods, and closed with a look at resources in this field.
(Note the program started at 1:30. I was not able to get there until 2:05) David Magnus presented a broad overview of areas of scientific research that have serious ethical questions associated with them. In a fast-paced presentation, because he had so many areas to discuss, he listed a topic and then raised a number of questions related to the research or technology. Artificial insemination, for example, raises all kind of questions of confidentiality; informed consent; what effect does this technology have on the children produced this way? With the use of sperm donors, how does the definition of parent get played out? How old is too old to be giving birth to a child? Another topic is the human genome project. The possibilities of tremendous breakthroughs in medical diagnosis and treatment of diseases are staggering to consider and yet is the science outpacing our need for protections? Some research organizations are taking out patents on parts of the biome. There are issues associated with conflicting patents, malpractice, and patent infringements. What about genetically modified foods? In Europe, there is real resistance to genetically engineered crops and meat. Genetics in the near future promises new treatments, new cures for the benefit of all. Yet there is a real potential for evil and abuses. The ethical questions raised are concerns for everyone and should not be left to the scientific community alone to answer.
Blum is a Pulitzer award-winning journalist who first became interested in the ethical issues in primate research in the 1990 series The Monkey Wars. She said that ten years later she is still writing about monkeys. This time she is looking at the life and work of Harry Harlowe, the psychologist at the UW-Madison who helped found the National Primate Research Centers. Blum went on with a slide presentation to introduce rhesus macaques, their behavior, and show how they have been used in research. These were the monkeys that were used to develop the polio vaccine. The USA is the only country that still uses monkeys in this way. The European nations no longer condone the practice.
Blum then went on to describe Harry Harlowe and the work that he did which turned the world of psychology upside down. He introduced the science of affection, connection, and relationships to a scientific community of B.F. Skinner. Harlowe crusaded on the need for motherly love and cuddling for the healthy development of children. The results of his experimentation led to the development of the attachment theory and enabled the work of Benjamin Spock and Barry Brazelton to become accepted practice. He clearly demonstrated that there was more in the relationship between a mother and child than just food. Yet today, Harlowe's techniques would not be allowed. The animal rights groups would protest them as cruelty to animals. The questions that Blum raised were:
What are we willing to pay for knowledge?
How do you build on the knowledge base when you can no longer conduct these experiments?
What do we do with these monkey populations now?
Should the higher primates be accorded civil rights?
The final part of this panel presentation was given by a librarian, Doris Goldstein. Goldstein described the organization and development of the National Center for Bioethics Literature and the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. As a good librarian, she had handouts for many services and resources that she described. The Web site for more information is http://bioethics.georgetown.edu. The handouts included an annotated list of Web resources that are posted on the Web site; the library classification scheme that she uses at the center; a sheet that describes the free searches of the Bioethicsline database; a call for The Syllabus Exchange Project (direct links to online syllabi are available in the online catalog and are included in the New Titles in Bioethics); a sample of the Scope Note Series, papers that offer immediate references to current topics in bioethics; a list of bioethics Internet resources, which lists other agencies in this field; and a publications list. Goldstein closed her presentation with a picture of the center's mascot the octopus because the center is a special, academic, medical, law, public, archive, publisher, and digital library. They have a wealth of historic and current resources for all to use.
This session would have been improved if both Magnus and Blum had posted their presentations on a Web site so that the audience could have referred to them after the conference was over. Magnus especially covered a lot of information in his brief time available.
Partnerships in Developing Biodiversity Networks
Museum Collection and Natural History Data on the World Wide Web was packed with information and presented rapidly at the end (4:30-6:00) of a busy afternoon. It would have been useful for the speakers to have given the audience an outline of their presentations and posted this session to Web sites for reference after the conference. The projects cited are important, cutting-edge developments and the cooperative partnerships among the different agencies in Florida offer a useful model for others to follow.
Michele R. Tennant, University of Florida Health Science Center Library introduced and moderated this session. There were two speakers: Meredith Lane, a Biodiversity expert from the Academy of Natural Sciences Biodiversity Group, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Stephanie Haas, environmental services librarian from the University of Florida Digital Library Center, Gainesville, Florida.
Lane talked about Biodiversity in the age of informatics moving global Biodiversity information from the linear Gutenberg era to hypertext databases in ecosystems data species banks. A missing piece in this development is a catalog of all the names of living and extinct things known in the world. There are approximately 1.8 million named species, with lots of variations and many species yet to be named. The name of an organism is the key to the discovery of the organism in an ecosystem. The age of molecular biology corresponds to the age of microcomputers. Thus 95 per cent of this data is available in digitized form. The data have an underlying common language and binary structure and a lot of money is spent on molecular biological informatics each year. Biodiversity and ecosystem information, on the other hand, is much older and far more diverse. The data languages are immensely complex and less than 1 per cent is available in digitized form. Much less money is spent on handling this data while terra bits of new information are pouring in each year. What this field of information needs is a system that policy makers can use to obtain an answer easily with analyzed data and good presentation tools. Three billion specimens in the world cannot wait for people to key in the data. The really troublesome resources lie in data from static media, legacy sets in old formats that need to be pulled forward and indexed. There is a need to make interdisciplinary cross databases too.
In answer to this dilemma in 1996, the OECD Megascience Forum Working Group on Biological Informatics decided to establish the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) as an international mechanism to make Biodiversity data and information accessible worldwide. The Web site is http://www.gbif.org or http://www.gbif.net Some of the priorities that this group has identified include: building and sustaining computers with a high degree of connectivity; carrying forward the growing body of knowledge as computer formats evolve; establishing a museum of old hardware; capturing new knowledge in digital computerized forms; paying more attention to re-useable data; avoiding inefficient and non-cost-effective data gathering; coordinating the efforts of scientists, librarians and computer scientists to provide more standardization in data gathering conventions; and developing metadata.
The GBIF Steering Committee recommends developing an allocation of 20-25 per cent from the countries signing on to this effort to develop standard protocols, promote digitizing data sets, and develop contracts between mission agencies like the National Science Foundation and private industry to work on specific projects. They see a need for cooperative agreements to concentrate information technology research on Biodiversity and ecosystems information so that species data can be restored, data content can be increased, and taxonomic data can be captured. The goal is an electronic catalog of names with keys or links to other databases. GBIF sees itself as a coordinating clearinghouse facilitating a dynamic catalog of knowledge. A total of 21 countries were represented in the steering committee plus one representative from the European Commission that met seven times between June 1996 and September 1998. This subgroup and the Subgroup on Neuroinformatics submitted a report to the OECD in January 1999. The ministers of the OECD Committee for Scientific Technology Policy endorsed the effort of the participating countries and welcome the efforts to get the foundations in place for the establishment of the GBIF in the year 2000. On the Web site in the "History of the GBIF" pages there is a link to the final report. The "GBIF Interim Steering Committee" pages are followed by the schedule of meetings and proposed start date for the GBIF. The USA is represented in the Interim Steering Committee in the position of the Chair, James L. Edwards, directorate for Biological Sciences, National Science Foundation. In June 2000, all countries were invited to comment on GBIF and to attend the third meeting of the Interim Steering Committe scheduled for 23-25 September 2000. Invitations to join will be issued in November and it is hoped that at least five countries will decide to join by January 2001.
Haas is working on a project in Florida that demonstrates the kind of efforts recommended by the GBIF Interim Steering Committee. The title of the project is "Linking Florida's Natural Heritage". The Web site is http://susdl.fcla.edu/lfnh The following is from the "About the Project", pages: "Linking Florida's Natural Heritage (LFNH) is a project to electronically link diverse information resources throughout the state of Florida into a virtual library on Florida ecology. Specially the project allows researchers to search both library bibliographic databases and museum specimen databases through the same Web-based interface." This project is funded by a National Leadership Grant from the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) from 1 October 1998 to 30 September 2000. The agencies in Florida that are participating in this project include: the Florida Museum of Natural History, the University of Florida Libraries, Florida International University Library, Florida Atlantic University Library, and the Florida Center for Library Automation. There is a species analyst at Kansas State University and the Denver Museum of Natural History is a cooperating partner. The Florida Center for Library Automation is helping with the standarized protocols using Z39.50, an ANSI/NISO standard for client/server search and retrieval. One real challenge of the project is to take a bibliographic record and match it to specimen data. More information on the software used is detailed on the "About the Project" Web page in the section titled "Integrating Museum and Bibliographic Databases".
This project includes the development of a Virtual Library database, which has over 200 seminal texts described; compilation of a thesaurus that links common and scientific name mapping, which researchers and catalogers use to select terms for the bibliographic files; and the digitization of the Core Collection. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) records are added to the MARC library files and museum files are mapped to MARC-like fields and returned as MARC records. Using the Darwin Core, the Florida databases should be able to connect with other databases being developed in Mexico, Kansas, the Smithsonian, and Michigan. The ultimate goal of the project is a master ecosystems species record for Florida that is available and useful for both the general public and scientists alike. This is an excellent model for other natural resources and environmental reference centers to consider adapting.
Barbara J. Arnold is Admissions and Placement Adviser, University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Library and Information Studies, Madison, Wisconsin. email@example.com