'Practical ethics' research gets a boost

Image caption: Believing a 'wait and see' approach is irresponsible, one team of grant recipients is looking at the possible negative consequences of autonomous vehicles to develop recommendations for trial programs refining the technology

A few years ago, academic leaders across Johns Hopkins saw an opportunity to take on critically important ethics issues—pushing the boundaries beyond the traditional health and science focus. A new batch of projects launched this month reflects this broadened scope, with topics ranging from self-driving cars and animal welfare in agriculture to refugee policies under the Trump administration.

The new research springs from the second round of internal grant funding for the JHU Exploration of Practical Ethics program, born in 2015 to explore real-world solutions for ethical challenges across a range of topics. After awarding nine grants in 2016, the program recently held another competitive call for applications and then disbursed $350,000 to seven new cross-disciplinary projects.

"These grants have opened the door for our thought leaders at Johns Hopkins to explore a breadth of challenging and timely ethical topics," says JHU Provost Sunil Kumar. "We're excited to see where their research takes them."

Here are the latest winners (for full details, visit the program website link above):

The Law of Unintended Consequences: Will the Implementation of California Senate Bill 27 Impact Animal Health and Well-Being?

Researchers are analyzing the ethics of human health and animal welfare in a new California bill, taking effect in 2018, that limits antibiotic uses in food-producing animals.

Principal investigators: Meghan Davis, assistant professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Environmental Health and Engineering and in the School of Medicine's Department of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology; and Jessica Fanzo, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Ethics and Global Food and Agriculture at SAIS, the Berman Institute of Bioethics, and the Bloomberg School

Co-investigators: Christopher Heaney, associate professor, and Keeve Nachman, assistant professor, both in the Bloomberg School; Sara Y. Tartof, research scientist, Kaiser Permanente Southern California; and Joan Casey, postdoctoral scholar, University of California, Berkeley

Ethical Robotics: Implementing Value-Driven Behavior in Autonomous Systems

With autonomous robots poised to pervade daily life as assistants and surrogates, how do we ensure their behavior is ethical? The team from the Applied Physics Laboratory and the Berman Institute of Bioethics will derive design guidelines and best practices for implementing practical ethics in robots, in part through experiments with APL's Robo Sally, a hyperdexterous robot with prosthetic limbs.

Principal investigators: David Handelman, senior roboticist; Ariel Greenberg, senior research scientist; and Bruce Swett, senior neuroscience researcher, all of APL

Co-investigators: Debra Mathews, assistant director of Science Programs at the Berman Institute and associate professor, School of Medicine; and Travis Rieder, research scholar and assistant director for Education Initiatives, Berman Institute

Are We Asking the Right Questions About the Ethics of Autonomous Vehicle Testing?

Believing a "wait-and-see" approach is irresponsible, researchers are looking at the possible negative consequences of autonomous vehicles—particularly their potential for widening societal disparities—to develop recommendations for trial programs refining the technology.

Principal investigators: Johnathon Ehsani, assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management and in the Center for Injury Research and Policy, Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Tak Igusa, professor in the Whiting School's Department of Civil Engineering

Co-investigator: Govind Persad, assistant professor, Bloomberg School and Berman Institute

Housing Our Story: Toward Archival Justice for Black Baltimore

The researchers aim to redress the biases inherent to the process of archiving, which can often result in silencing black people's memory and history, while engaging in the practical ethics of building an archive about African-American staff and contract workers at Johns Hopkins University.

Principal investigators: Jennifer Kingsley, senior lecturer and assistant director of the Program in Museums and Society; Shani Mott, lecturer in the Center for Africana Studies; and N.D.B. Connolly, Herbert Baxter Adams Associate Professor of History, all in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

The Ethics of Preparedness in Humanitarian Disasters

What are the "everyday" ethical issues that affect war-adjacent professionals such as humanitarians, journalists, and scholars on the ground? With an eye toward new policy interventions, researchers are examining the training and practices of such professionals in Iraqi Kurdistan and Lesvos, Greece.

Principal investigator: Sarah Parkinson, Aronson Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies in the Krieger School and SAIS

Co-investigator: Meaghan Charlton, PhD candidate in the Krieger School

Determining the Number of Refugees to be Resettled in the United States: An Ethical and Human Rights Analysis

In response to the controversial executive orders by President Donald Trump on travel bans and refugees, researchers are reviewing literature and conducting interviews to explore ethics and human rights issues to inform future policy decisions on refugee resettlements.

Principal investigator: Leonard Rubenstein, senior scientist in the Bloomberg School's Department of Epidemiology and the Berman Institute

Co-investigators: Govind Persad, assistant professor in the Bloomberg School and Berman Institute; Daniel Serwer, professor at SAIS; and Paul Spiegel, professor in the Bloomberg School and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health

Conducting Research on Commercially Owned Online Spaces

As people spend more time in online spaces created by commercial interests, such as retail sites and brand-specific web pages, the research team seeks to elucidate what's "right and wrong" for researchers studying this naturally limited selection of users—especially from the angle of public health consequences.

Principal investigator: Katherine Clegg Smith, professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Health, Behavior and Society

Co-Investigators: Joanna Cohen, Bloomberg Professor of Disease Prevention and director of the Bloomberg School's Institute for Global Tobacco Control; Meghan Moran, assistant professor in the Bloomberg School; Mark Dredze, associate professor in the Whiting School of Engineering; Errol L. Fields, assistant professor in the School of Medicine; Alexandra Klarén, assistant professor in the Carey Business School; and Caitlin Weiger, PhD candidate in the Bloomberg School