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Research Ethics in Evolutionary Biological Sciences

The goal of this seminar series is to learn about relevant tools and concepts that can help us design our research according to ethical guidelines. We want to increase our awareness about the different ethical decisions that we face at multiple stages of the research process to make considerate decisions - across the stages of study design, data collection, data analysis and communication of results, to the scientic community and to the public. The seminar series is targeted at researchers working with live subjects (humans and other animals) as well as with materials (e.g. human remains, artwork, knowledge, DNA samples), but cover topics relevant across all research elds.

Organizers: Han Tran, Riana Minocher, Ilaria Pretelli, Lucie Benoit and Dr. Dieter Lukas

Contact: ethics_seminar@[>>> Please remove the text! <<<]eva.mpg.de or leipzig-school@[>>> Please remove the text! <<<]eva.mpg.de

Place: 4th floor seminar room H 4.11


Monday, 25th November
09:00 - 09:15Opening: Introduction to the seminar
09:15 - 09:45Talk: General introduction into ethics
Dr. Ulrich Braun (Office of the Ethics Council of the Max Planck Society)
09:45 - 10:15Q & A about the ethics process in the Max Planck Society
10:15 - 10:30Break
10:30 - 11:00Talk: Ethical work with non-human animals [presentation]
Prof. Dr. Heribert Hofer (Director, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research)


In this talk we will consider ethical issues facing scientists during research on the (behavioural) ecology of wild mammals and birds. We will discuss criteria to choose between traditional and alternative non-invasive and minimally invasive approaches and their consequences. We will illuminate these by a detailed look at handling and manipulating animals for the purpose of individual recognition and the study of their movements using examples from the history of research in the Serengeti. We conclude that (1) scientists need to carefully consider how their actions affect their research outcomes and to what extent they are guided in this by the methodological traditions of their respective scientific subdisciplines; (2) non-invasive or minimally invasive approaches can provide scientific evidence of equal or – in many cases – superior quality for many of today’s research questions.

11:00 - 11:30Talk: Ethical work with human participants
Dr. Mark Stoneking (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)


In this presentation I will discuss various aspects of working with human participants, drawing largely on my own experiences in conducting research on human genetic history. The topics that will be addressed include:
- research permits and formal ethical review
- contacting communities and informed consent
- addressing community and individual concerns
- making genetic data publicly available
- working with archival samples
- community benefits: returning results

11:30 - 12:45Panel discussion: Working with individuals
Prof. Dr. Heribert Hofer, Dr. Mark Stoneking, Dr. Corina Logan, Dr. Linda Gerlach
12:45 - 13:30Lunch break
13:30 - 14:00Talk: Community engagement [presentation]
Anna Szoeke (Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage)
14:00 - 14:30Talk: Community engagement
Prof. Dr. Ulrich Demmer (LMU Munich)


I talk about ethical considerations in combining activist involvement with scientific research, address the ontological politics of cultural/social anthropology and what it means to politicize science and anthropology. The ethical politics of activist research, I argue, is crucial for an engaged research design, in particular when we are concerned with issues of a strong sustainable future/society. Empirically I will focus on the work of engaged anthopology and speak about my own activist research in, with and for Degrowth, a socio-ecological movement.

14:30 - 15:00Break
15:00 - 16:15Panel discussion: Community engagement
Anna Szoeke, Dr. Ulrich Demmer, Dr. Caissa Revilla Minaya, Dr. Adam Powell
16:15 - 17:00Graduate students: Assignment of topics
Tuesday, 26th November
09:00 - 09:30Talk: The Social Role(s) of the Researcher: A Field of Ethics [presentation]
Dr. Adam Boyette (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)


In this presentation, I will describe the multiple social roles the researcher plays in the course of typical field research in anthropology, and demonstrate how these roles are interconnected through a set of ethical obligations embedded in a framework of relationships. In particular, I will focus on four sets of relationships—the Researcher-Research Participant, Researcher-Research Assistant, Researcher-Student, and Researcher-Scientific Community relationships—and I will discuss some of the ethical obligations inherent to each. Drawing on published ethnographic examples, quantitative studies, and my own field experience, I aim to help outline a set of principles that field researchers must minimally follow to meet these obligations. For example, one key principle is to use careful and deliberate self-reflection as a tool of ethical conduct. Whether a field researcher intends to stay at a site two weeks or two years, I argue that self-reflection regarding one’s social positionality and the quality of relationships with members of the local community, research team, and wider scientific community will lead to the highest quality data. This is because the researcher is forced to confront the close linkage between the data and their own and others’ understanding of the social role(s) the research plays. Ultimately, I assert that real or perceived ethical misconduct on the part of the researcher in the context of any one of the specified relationships can impact the others and draws into question the scientific merit of the data collected.

09:30 - 10:00Talk: Ethical field research
Dr. des. Aydin Abar (Ruhr-University Bochum)


Juggling Responsibilities (and Failing Sometimes)
Around 150 years have passed since Europeans first came to West Asia in search of the ruins of the Assyrian Empire. Starting as enterprises deeply rooted in colonialism, archaeological excavations eventually became more scientific with time: methods were refined on many scales, attitudes and approaches evolved. Today most scholars agree that we have responsibilities beyond the methods we use to collect, prepare and publish data. Many agree that reflection of our research history and self-reflection are integral elements and influence our approach to diverse fields:
- In which way do we collaborate with local experts and local communities?
- How do we handle cultural and political differences?
How do we organize sampling and publication?
How do we communicate our research to the public?
I am going to give an overview on these topics based on my personal experiences in the “International Chehrābād Saltmummy & Saltmine Exploration Project”.

Editorial Collective, 2012. Beyond Affirmation: Perspectives for critical archaeologies. Forum Kritische Archäologie, 1, pp.167-183 (English pp.184-196).
Gnecco, C. and Lippert, D. (eds.), 2016. Ethics and Archaeological Praxis. Heidelberg: Springer International Publishing.
Trigger, B., 2008. A History of Archaeological Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

10:00 - 10:15Break
10:15 - 11:45Panel discussion: Ethical field research
Dr. Adam Boyette, Dr. Aydin Abar, Dr. Sheina Lew-Levy
11:45 - 13:00Lunch break
13:00 - 13:30Talk: Ethical study design
Dr. Heidi Colleran (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)


In this talk I will argue that the development of an 'ethnographic sensibility' is the single most important component of ethical fieldwork with human populations. Researchers must find ways to understand their interventions in other people’s lives “from the inside”. Doing so will help design all aspects of a field project, from the framing of scientific questions to identifying participant benefits. This is not an easy or a quick task. In many cases the best solution is to collaborate or consult with ethnographers from the beginning, and there are mutual scientific benefits to doing so. Drawing on my own experiences developing a multidisciplinary study on population history in Vanuatu, I will highlight some of the risks and benefits of this kind of design.

13:30 - 14:00Talk: Ethical study design
Dr. Shannon McPherron (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)
14:00 - 14:15Break
14:15 - 15:45Panel discussion: Study Design
Dr. Heidi Colleran, Dr. Shannon MacPherron, Dr. Sarah Pope, Dr. Mateja Hajdinjak
15:45 - 16:00Break
16:00 - 17:00Graduate students: Discussion in small groups


Code of Conduct

We aspire to create a safe, inclusive, supportive and harassment-free environment that enables people to be themselves. We expect everyone who uses our physical or online spaces — whether they are a seminar participant, guest or program participant — to follow this Code of Conduct. Anyone who violates this code of conduct may be sanctioned or expelled at the discretion of the seminar  organizers and admins.

All participants of the seminar, along with guest, speakers and visitors, are expected to agree with and abide by the following code of conduct. We will enforce this code as needed. We expect cooperation from all participants to help ensure a safe and welcoming environment for everybody. Your health and safety, and that of everyone around you and our research subjects, is more important than our research.

The Quick Version

Our seminar is dedicated to providing a harassment-free seminar experience for everyone, regardless of gender, gender identity and expression, age, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, ethnicity, religion (or lack thereof), or technology choices. We do not tolerate harassment of seminar participants in any form. Sexual language and imagery is not appropriate for any seminar venue, including talks, discussions, breaks, Twitter and other online media. Seminar participants violating these rules may be sanctioned or expelled from the seminar without a refund at the discretion of the seminar organizers.

The Less Quick Version

We expect all seminar participants to behave according to these rules and all relevant protocols and guidelines.

Please follow these guidelines:

  1. Behave professionally. Harassment and sexist, racist, or exclusionary comments or jokes are not appropriate. Harassment includes (but is not limited to) offensive verbal comments related to gender, gender identity and expression, age, sexual orientation, disability, mental illness, neuro(a)typicality, physical appearance, socioeconomic status or background or clothing, body size, race, ethnicity, religion, technology choices, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, referring to people in a way that misidentifies their gender and/or rejects the validity of their gender identity, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.
  2. All communication should be appropriate for a professional audience including people of many different backgrounds.

  3. Be respectful and do not insult or put down other attendees or participants of the event. Critique ideas not people.

  4. Should a participant witness events of bullying, harassment or aggression, we recommend that they approach the affected person to show support and check how they are. The witness may also wish to suggest that the person report the inappropriate behaviour. However, it is up to the affected person alone whether or not they wish to report it.

  5. If participants wish to share photos of a speaker on social media, we strongly recommend that they first get the speaker’s permission. Participants may also share the contents of talks/slides via social media unless speakers have asked that specific details/slides not be shared.

Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately.

If you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please immediately contact Han Tran (han_tran@[>>> Please remove the text! <<<]eva.mpg.de) or Dieter Lukas (dieter_lukas@[>>> Please remove the text! <<<]eva.mpg.de) immediately. If Han or Dieter are the cause of your concern or for official concerns, please contact the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology's Ombudsperson, Shannon McPherron (mcpherron@[>>> Please remove the text! <<<]eva.mpg.de) or Equal Opportunity Commissioner, Katharina Haberl (equal_opportunity_commissioner@[>>> Please remove the text! <<<]eva.mpg.de).

We will respect confidentiality requests for the purpose of protecting victims of abuse. At our discretion, we may publicly name a person about whom we have received harassment complaints, or privately warn third parties about them. We will not name harassment victims without their affirmative consent.

We reserve the right to reject any report we believe to have been made in bad faith. Reports intended to silence legitimate criticism may be deleted without response.