Ethics at CNRS
“The research activities are intended to contribute to the development of knowledge and the development of science. It is based on principles of honesty, integrity and responsibility on which society relies for its trust in research”.
Ethics Committee of the CNRS, Practising ethical and responsible research
Ethical issues : the COMETS
Through its Opinions and the training initiatives that it undertakes or in which it participates, COMETS draws the attention of research and management staff to the ethical and societal dimensions of research. In so doing, it aims to shed light on research freedoms bearing in mind the duties and responsibilities which staff members have towards the CNRS and more generally towards society.
It is not an operational ethics committee responsible for accrediting projects. It has no authority for handling violations of the rules of scientific integrity and does not rule on individual cases, whether in relation to scientific projects or the misconduct of researchers.
The CNRS referent for these operational ethics issues is the Regulation and Bioethics Unit of the Institute of Biological Sciences (INSB): it advises laboratories on the ethics of their project and, if necessary, directs them to the appropriate operational ethics committee.
The operational ethics committees, known in English as IRBs (Institutional Review Board), IECs (Independent Ethics Committee), ERBs (Ethical Review Board) or REBs (Research Ethics Board), evaluate the conformity of projects with a certain number of ethical recommendations, in particular when projects involve human and/or animal experimentation. More and more research funding agencies in North America or Europe require teams receiving their grants to receive ethical accreditation from one of these committees.
For the time being, in the field of life sciences, an agreement has been reached between the CNRS and the Inserm’s ethical evaluation committee, which agrees to provide these accreditations if necessary. In addition, still in the field of life sciences, the CNRS has set up a Regulation and Bioethics unit located at the Institute of Biological Sciences. This unit has all the legislative and regulatory competences in the field of bioethics and research involving the human person that it provides to researchers.
On the other hand, in the case of engineering sciences, digital sciences or human and social sciences, it is necessary to call upon a CERNI (Ethics Committee for Non-Interventional Research) or a similar committee. The CNRS referent for these operational ethics issues is the Regulatory and Bioethics Unit of the Institute of Biological Sciences (INSB): it advises laboratories on the ethics of their project and, if necessary, directs them to the appropriate operational ethics committee.
Certification of ethical conformity of projects : the CNRS device
An increasing number of institutions are requiring a certification of ethical conformity of research projects attested by the organization on which the funded laboratories are dependent. The CNRS has entrusted COMETS with the responsibility of coordinating the new arrangements it has made to deal with operational ethical issues. In particular, COMETS works with the Regulatory and Bioethics Unit of the CNRS Institute of Biological Sciences (INSB), which is the reference structure for operational ethics issues in laboratories.
For all questions related to ethical regulations, COMETS may call upon expertise from within or outside the CNRS. Concerning the certification of conformity to ethical rules, increasingly required by funding agencies, and research involving human beings, the following system applies:
For research involving the human being, the promotion of research projects in the biomedical field and bioethics regulation: the CNRS Regulation and Bioethics Unit is competent.
- The Institute of Biological Sciences (INSB) of the CNRS is responsible for the application of this legislative and regulatory mechanism. For questions of operational ethics, the Regulatory and Bioethics Unit, whose head is Alice René, is the reference point of contact. For research involving the interventional human person, a committee of experts, chaired by Professor Pierre-Paul Vidal, selects the projects likely to be promoted by the CNRS; it may call upon experts designated by the CNRS Institutes concerned, if necessary.
- The CNRS Regulation and Bioethics Unit is responsible for advising on the preparation of files, particularly for the steps required on the bioethical aspects of projects, such as obtaining the agreement of the Committee for the Protection of Persons. This unit also participates in legislative developments on certain topics. COMETS has appointed one of its members who will be kept informed of the files examined by the committee of experts. The head of the unit is a permanent guest of COMETS and may be called upon to attend COMETS discussions when the themes addressed by the latter are related to the issues it has to deal with.
For certification of conformity with American ethical rules: an agreement has been reached with the Inserm’s Ethical Evaluation Committee, which has an Institutional Review Board.
More and more institutions are requesting certification of ethical conformity of research projects attested by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). The CNRS does not currently have such an IRB, and obtaining it takes a very long time. This is why a solution has been found with the Inserm’s Ethical Evaluation Committee (CEEI). The CEEI is an IRB registered on the regulatory site in the United States for the health field. It is linked to the Multi-Organisation Thematic Institute “Public Health”, a member of the Aviesan alliance. The CEEI is authorised to certify research projects in the biomedical and behavioural fields, i.e. life sciences and SHS. It can also rule for other fields of science, which it has already done. It considers cases where an ethical conformity opinion is requested from the project leader in order to sign a contract or simply to make a publication. These are often international projects that request the opinion of an ethics committee in each partner’s country of origin. For this reason, it has been agreed that the files received by the CNRS (Regulation and Bioethics Unit or COMETS) for certification can then be sent directly to the Inserm CEEI, and that the latter will inform the CNRS of the treatment given to them by its evaluation committee. The file must first be submitted to the CNRS Regulation and Bioethics Unit for verification of its qualification.
Training in ethics
Staff training in ethics and scientific integrity will be offered by the CNRS Human Resources Department.
Some members of COMETS contribute to the teaching of ethics and scientific integrity in different frameworks.