The ETHICSWEB project


What is ethics in science?

Societal acceptability of scientific research requires sound ethical reflection. The complexity of modern sciences and the rapid progress in research and development require that up-to-date information is available in order to make such reflection possible. Moreover, the European society is characterized by a rich plurality of ethical, legal and cultural traditions. This plurality, all the more, calls for an intensive exchange on normative aspects of science. If the European Research Area is to fully realize its potential to become a leading place of innovation worldwide that is at the same time fully integrated within the European society and that is based on a set of shared European values, it is essential that scientific development is underpinned by highly informed ethical reflection and normative exchange. It is the overall aim of ETHICSWEB to stimulate an enhanced democratic debate on ethical issues of science and to promote a more engaged and informed public. The only way to reflect and stimulate the cultural, legal, and ethical diversity in the whole of Europe is by providing free and easy access to this diversity.

Ethics in science has increasingly become an important issue in democratic societies, especially subsequent to the rise of the modern life sciences. After important discoveries in the field of biology ethical reflection of scientific work and its results has come into focus. Naturally, the complex of bioethics, understood as medical ethics, is prominently represented. Furthermore closely related topics, like environmental ethics, animal ethics which can be subsumed under a broader understanding of bioethics also take up much space. But ETHICSWEB is not restricted to life sciences in the strict sense, but is principally open to all sciences which can be addressed by ethical questions.


The ETHICSWEB is an initiative of European Ethics Documentation and Information Centres, Ethics Networks, and International Organisations. It emerges from various previous initiatives to set up infrastructures on a regional and national level. These are particularly regional and national networks in the UK, Scandinavia and in Germany, and the foundation of Centres like the regional UNESCO Centres. Further associations and organizations of institutes and experts have been founded in the past to enhance communications concerning applied ethics (EACME, SPT etc.). The European Commission and the Council of Europe supported networking activities among various European institutes, organisations, centres, committees (EURETHNET, PRIVIREAL, NEBRA, EULABOR, EUDUREC, COMETH etc.). International organizations like UNESCO, WHO, CoE or FAO and national centres like ISS, DRZE or INSERM created databases (literature, research projects, experts etc.) which have led to many bilateral and multilateral co-operations.

Although advanced retrieval functionalities do exist, many providers developed different tools and search engines which are not yet connected and lead to a lack of transparency or interaction in the field of ethics. Missing is an infrastructure embracing these different infrastructures and initiatives and thus giving a clear perspective of sustainable networking and opportunities for easy access and communication. The experiences of networks like EURETHNET, PRIVIREAL/PRIVILEGED, BioT-Ethics etc. have shown how many partners can be involved in excellently running networks of infrastructures.

In 2004 the “Feasibility study for an advanced systematic documentation, information and communication tool in the field of ethical issues in science, research and technology” (FASTER) was undertaken. The findings of FASTER were presented at the EC Workshop “Setting up an information and documentation system for ethical issues” on October 21, 2004, in Brussels. It became clear that the “Databases should be sustainable and continue over time and that filtering information is an important issue”. In order to provide transparency as well as neutrality information systems need to create a “filter mechanism based on competence and neutrality. Thematic regional or national focal points for a European information and documentation system should be established”. An information and documentation system on the ethics of science should be interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary”. There is a strong need “to create common standards” and protocols. This is a “basic prerequisite for the creation of an information and documentation system on ethics and science. A key effort should be made to integrate existing information and documentation systems in a platform which is ‘modularly’ established but ‘dynamically’ open to future partners,” technologies and systems.”

ETHICSWEB build upon the recommendations of FASTER. It is funded by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme. It started in June 2008 and has ended in August 2011.

How does ETHICSWEB work?

ETHICSWEB is designed as a decentralized structure which does not provide information of its own, but strives to make already existing information more visible and easier to access.

The portal has been developed as a content management system (CMS) which enables the coverage of heterogeneous information objects like ETHICSWEB does. The centrepiece of ETHICSWEB is the advanced search functionality which is mainly based on established open source software. The search functionality will enable the retrieval of information stored within the different databases integrated into ETHICSWEB with only one search-query. To achieve this comprehensive goal several ways of gathering data are employed:

Harvesting is a type of machine-to-machine communication in which two types of actors co-operate. Content (or data) providers contribute metadata and service providers organise metadata in databases and build search engines. The content providers, so to say, open 'back door' to their databases and expose metadata to standardised requests from service providers. Mostly OAI-PMH (Open Access Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting) standard is used. Standardised harvesting is the preferred way of content acquisition in ETHICSWEB. Other (non-OAI-PMH) standard ways of harvesting will be used for non-literature types of information objects and with content providers with which ETHICSWEB will reach corresponding agreements.

All important XML-based aggregation methods will be used to ensure the syndication of content from external sites which manage the ethics-in-science related public aggregation streams (e.g. scientific journals homepages). Users with authoring credentials will have the possibility to subscribe to such aggregation streams.
Aggregation with Ethicsweb-specific XML formats will be used to collect information from sources other than public streams (e.g. regional ethics-in-science related offices with information about their pending events, experts, etc).

Data Entry Tools
Besides these two methods ETHICSWEB also provides the opportunity to directly enter data into ETHICSWEB via a data entry tool. By doing so ETHICSWEB intends to remidy identified lacks in the acdemic infrastructure in regard to databases. Starting with the Literature entry tool ETHICSWEB is willing to provide interested institutions with these documentation tools for free as well.

Entry tools exist for
- Literature and Document like Objekts
- Knowledge Organisation Systems
- Teaching Materials
- Training Programmes
- Research Projects
- Ethics Experts
- Ethics Centres
- Events
- News
- Web Resources

These tools enable institutions to distribute their information with relatively low efforts. All Data Entry Tools comprise a sophisticated database technology that functions in accordance with the ETHICSWEB documentation standards. It can be used via the ETHICSWEB portal or implemented as a 'virtual' database on an external IT infrastructure. 'Virtual' Database means that it is not necessary to implement the software into ones own infrastructure but it can also be implemented into ETHICSWEB only. The data stored in the ETHICSWEB 'virtual' Database can, of course, be exported in order to serve as a database of its own. However, the database' content can easily be integrated into the ETHICSWEB search functionality at any time.

If you are interested in a cheap and efficient start in electronic documentation please just contact us.

How is ETHICSWEB organized?

The aim of ETHICSWEB is the progressive core realization of an infrastructure to develop an advanced systematic documentation, information and communication tool in the field of ethical issues in science, research, and technology. ETHICSWEB strives for documentation of different sources which include information on ethics and science like e.g. literature. But ETHICSWEB is not restricted to literature or other document like information objects (DLIO) as it also will provide further information on ethics and science in regard to laws and regulations, training materials and training programmes, academic exchange programmes, centres, experts, and projects as well as events and news. The goal is to connect already existing activities in the fields of ethics and science and thus make it more easily accessible to the user. By providing information which previously has been scattered we hope to provide a sustainable contribution to the European Research Area.
The goal of the project is a sustainable contribution to the European Research Area by bundling already existing resources into one European reference focal point. By doing so, ETHICSWEB can serve as an inter-connected European information and documentation system for ethics and science, or in short: European Ethics Documentation Centre.

In order to realize this goal ETHICSWEB is organized in seven different Work Packages caring for different aspects of ETHICSWEB.
All work packages are led by highly experienced institutions in the respective field. Work package one is coordinates the project and manages the collaboration between the other work packages. Work packages two, three, and four come to be the centre piece of the project, since all three work package are concerned with the central feature of ETHICSWEB, the merging of different databases by one overarching search functionality designed to provide easy access to up-to-date information about science and ethics. Complementary work packages five, six, and seven are concerned with flanking measures necessary in order to make ETHICSWEB a comprehensive and sustainable creation. While the centre piece comprises the creation of a powerful search tool and the integration of different databases the flanking measures can be described as Capacity Building and Networking.


ETHICSWEB will not be liable in any event for any direct or consequential loss or damage howsoever caused by the use of the ETHICSWEB internet site or linked sites.

Information and endorsements
ETHICSWEB links information from other internet sites and offers a search facility for the information on its own site and linked through the site. Whilst ETHICSWEB makes every effort to ensure the accuracy, reliability, suitability and availability of its own information and takes reasonable steps to ensure that the providers of linked internet sites take similar measures to ensure accuracy, reliability, suitability and availability, information provided by or through the ETHICSWEB is made available without express or implied representation, endorsement or warranty of any kind. The information made available by or through ETHICSWEB is not a substitute to specific professional advice, particularly medical or legal advice.

The views expressed on the site or linked sites do not necessarily represent the views of ETHICSWEB, its partner institutions or the views of the European Commission. ETHICSWEB accepts no responsibility and is not liable for the views and content, howsoever expressed, of the sites linked through the EthicsWeb site or other materials linked or otherwise made available through the site.

Technical operation of the site
ETHICSWEB makes every effort to ensure that its internet site operates smoothly and without risk to the users. ETHICSWEB does not warrant that the hardware and software which provides either the ETHICSWEB internet site or the internet sites linked through ETHICSWEB are free from viruses or other harmful elements.

ETHICSWEB does not itself generate pop-up advertisements. This does not, however, prevent such adverts appearing through the operation of third party software, including that of sites linked to the ETHICSWEB site. ETHICSWEB neither endorses nor recommends any products or services or the subject matter of any advertisements appearing on your computer during or related to your use of the ETHICSWEB site or other linked sites.

Changes to the site
ETHICSWEB reserves the right to make any changes to the internet site, including the removal of the site either temporarily or permanently, and to the links to other sites at any time and without notice, and to the terms and conditions for the use of this site.

Copyright statement
ETHICSWEB seeks to ensure that any material appearing on its site or made available through its links respect the original copyrights. The use of copyright materials provided through the ETHICSWEB internet site or linked sites remains the responsibility of the user and ETHICSWEB provides no license or special permission for any use of the materials.

Specific condition of use concerning materials generated through PubMed
Materials made available through PubMed are done so subject to the specific conditions of PubMed as well as by ETHICSWEB. The PubMed conditions are available at