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Med Health Care Philos. 2017 Mar;20(1):43-50. doi: 10.1007/s11019-016-9721-6.

Trust me, I'm a researcher!: The role of trust in biomedical research.

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The Ethox Centre, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


In biomedical research lack of trust is seen as a great threat that can severely jeopardise the whole biomedical research enterprise. Practices, such as informed consent, and also the administrative and regulatory oversight of research in the form of research ethics committees and Institutional Review Boards, are established to ensure the protection of future research subjects and, at the same time, restore public trust in biomedical research. Empirical research also testifies to the role of trust as one of the decisive factors in research participation and lack of trust as a barrier for consenting to research. However, what is often missing is a clear definition of trust. This paper seeks to address this gap. It starts with a conceptual analysis of the term trust. It compares trust with two other related terms, those of reliance and trustworthiness, and offers a defence of Baier's attribute of 'good will' a basic characteristic of trust. It, then, proceeds to consider trust in the context of biomedical research by examining two questions: First, is trust necessary in biomedical research?; and second, do increases in regulatory oversight of biomedical research also increase trust in the field? This paper argues that regulatory oversight is important for increasing reliance in biomedical research, but it does not improve trust, which remains important for biomedical research. It finishes by pointing at professional integrity as a way of promoting trust and trustworthiness in this field.


Biomedical research; Professional integrity; Reliance; Research ethics; Trust; Trustworthiness

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