Nuffield Council on Bioethics

Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Guidelines

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has just published the report of its working party Genetics and human behaviour: the ethical context.

The first of their recommendations focuses on the reporting of research in behavioural genetics. The report notes:

"Research which claims to show an association between particular genetic variants and particular traits tends to receive considerable attention in the scientific and lay media. The various methods of research in this field are not infallible, and the reviews of the evidence in Chapters 7-10 show that few findings have been replicated successfully to date. Thus, reports of such things as ‘gay genes’ or ‘smart mice’ convey a highly inaccurate impression of the state of the research. The lack of reporting of negative or contradictory findings exacerbates this problem. These difficulties are not unique to research in behavioural genetics. However, it does seem that such research is, at present, particularly susceptible to reporting which, whether strictly accurate or not, is misleading in the impression it gives to the reader. The potential for the abuse of findings in this area means that the reporting of this research ought to be conducted with particular care."

The report continues:

"We consider that researchers and those who report research have a duty to communicate findings in a responsible manner. We welcome the Guidelines on Science and Health Communication published by the Social Issues Research Centre, the Royal Society and the Royal Institution of Great Britain and recommend that further initiatives in this area should be encouraged."

We are very pleased that such a positive endorsement of the Guidelines comes in the Council's first recommendation in this much awaited report. You can download the Summary and Recommendations or the Full Report from their website at

October 12, 2002