Journal of Academic Ethics

, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 315–338 | Cite as

Punctuated Equilibrium, Moral Panics and the Ethics Review Process

  • Maureen H. Fitzgerald


A review of the literature and ethnographic data from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, and the United Kingdom on the research ethics review process suggest that moral panics can become triggers for punctuated equilibrium in the review process at both the macro and microlevel, albeit with significantly different levels of magnitude and impact. These data suggest that neither the development of the ethics review process nor the process itself proceeds gradually, but both are characterized by periodic major shifts evoked by particular events or situations that result in varying levels of moral panic. One way to deal with this moral panic is to increase the regulation of research and the depth or intensity of the scrutiny of applications under ethics review. Moral panics at the macrolevel influence those at the microlevel and, if the moral panic evoked at the local or microlevel is not satisfactorily resolved, it will evoke action at a higher level. Understanding the evolution of research ethics review processes from this perspective might help make actions by ethics committees and policy makers more understandable and help explain why attention to research ethics are heightened at particular points in time. It may also provide a basis for developing recommendations for adaptations to the ethics review process and policy at both the local and macrolevel.

Key Words

Australia Canada New Zealand research ethics review process United Kingdom United States 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Occupation and Leisure SciencesThe University of Sydney, Faculty of Health SciencesLidcombeAustralia

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