How factual do we want the facts? Criteria for a critical appraisal of empirical research for use in ethics

J Med Ethics. 2010 Apr;36(4):222-5. doi: 10.1136/jme.2009.033225.


Most contributions to the current debate about the consideration and application of empirical information in ethics scholarship deal with epistemological issues such as the role and the meaning of empirical research in ethical reasoning. Despite the increased publication of empirical data in ethics literature we still lack systematic analyses and conceptual frameworks that would help us to understand the rarely discussed methodological and practical problems in appraising empirical research. This paper demonstrates the need for critical appraisal and its crucial methodological role in the application of empirical information in ethical reasoning. Furthermore, it systematically examines the criteria and the appropriate appraisal of empirical research and the associated challenges by highlighting current problems in empirical ethics literature. These problems reveal the following challenges for a critical and responsible consideration of empirical information in ethical reasoning: (i) training in the basic skills of locating and communicating empirical data from the relevant studies; (ii) training in basic knowledge of how to critically appraise empirical (qualitative and quantitative) research and its results; (iii) determination of quality standards for empirical ethics research; (iv) adequate reporting of the methodology and results of empirical ethics research in scientific journals.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making / ethics*
  • Empirical Research*
  • Ethics, Clinical*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / ethics*
  • Humans
  • Patient Participation / methods