Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 489–500 | Cite as

Ethics and Epistemology in Big Data Research

  • Wendy Lipworth
  • Paul H. Mason
  • Ian Kerridge
  • John P. A. Ioannidis
Symposium: Ethics and Epistemology of Big Data


Biomedical innovation and translation are increasingly emphasizing research using “big data.” The hope is that big data methods will both speed up research and make its results more applicable to “real-world” patients and health services. While big data research has been embraced by scientists, politicians, industry, and the public, numerous ethical, organizational, and technical/methodological concerns have also been raised. With respect to technical and methodological concerns, there is a view that these will be resolved through sophisticated information technologies, predictive algorithms, and data analysis techniques. While such advances will likely go some way towards resolving technical and methodological issues, we believe that the epistemological issues raised by big data research have important ethical implications and raise questions about the very possibility of big data research achieving its goals.


Big data Real world data Ethics Epistemology 



We would like to thank Associate Professor Ainsley Newson for her helpful guidance on an earlier version of this article.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


Research related to this article has been funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (Career Development Fellowship APP1036539 and Project Grant APP APP1083980).

Conflict of Interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in MedicineUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Haematology DepartmentRoyal North Shore HospitalSt LeonardsAustralia
  3. 3.Stanford University School of MedicineStanfordUSA
  4. 4.Stanford University School of Humanities and SciencesStanfordUSA
  5. 5.Meta-Research Innovation Center at StanfordStanfordUSA

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