Our Society’s Ethics Committee is co-launching articles in our newsletter and student blog with the aim to generate dialog among our membership about the ethical issues we encounter in our research. We encourage you to post your responses below, or submit them to the Ethics Committee Chair (email@example.com). With permission, we will share anonymized responses in the next issue of our newsletter. If you have an idea for a future scenario, please share with the Ethics Committee via the email above.
You are a PhD student conducting research on the ethnobotany of a crop known as ‘leopard bean’ and are particularly interested in its wild relatives. You have completed interviews with more than 20 farmers, and no one knows of any plants that are similar to the crop. Finally, an Elder farmer tells you about plants she calls ‘cousin leopard bean’ that grow in one place along the edges of her fields. She takes you to see these plants and indeed, they look to be the wild relatives of leopard bean.
As you examine these plants, another farmer joins you and tells you that cousin leopard beans can be found in other areas, but they have become extremely rare. He says that they are valuable because people use them to prepare a traditional curative soup, and young people have been gathering them to sell at the local market. He says that he has tried to transplant a few of them to his garden, but they do not survive.
You accompany the Elder farmer back home. As you walk, she tells you that she is worried about a new asphalt road that the government is planning to construct through the community. She says local officials recently informed her that the road will pass through her farmland, and she will lose some of her crop fields. Although the government will compensate her for her land, she is concerned that the road will destroy many plants, including the patch of cousin leopard beans you were examining. The two of you discuss how your research might help prevent the road from impacting rare plants like cousin leopard beans. You explain how you can use your GPS to make a map showing the locations of rare plants, which local officials could use to minimize the impact of the road. The Elder is excited to help, and tells you that she would be happy to show you the sites she knows. She says that many of her neighbors would help with mapping.
When you arrive back at her home, she excitedly tells her son about your research. When she is finished, he asks the two of you, “If there is a map of rare plants, who will protect them from people who want to sell them at the market?”
Questions: After reading the scenario, please take a moment to consider how you would navigate the ethical issues that arise. What course of action would you take? What ethical principles led you to this decision? Do any of these resources provide guidance?
- The International Society of Ethnobiology’s Code of Ethics (adopted by the Society for Economic Botany in 2013): https://www.ethnobiology.net/what-we-do/core-programs/ise-ethics-program/code-of-ethics/
- SEB’s Ethics Toolkit: https://www.econbot.org/home/governance/guidelines-of-professional-ethics.html
Deadline: October 1st, 2022.