"Without the freedom to ask difficult questions, research is not really free."

Ethics Week 2019 offers the VUB research community a unique chance to respond to changes in research ethics – changes that are themselves a result of our changing world. Ethics Week offers a series of events around ethical themes that are of interest to the VUB’s younger and more experienced researchers, and to its research policy makers:

  • For young researchers, the events provide a chance to discuss their research and its ethical implications.
  • For more experienced researchers, the events will provide insights into changing obligations, and an understanding of how to support other researchers.
  • For policy makers, the events are an opportunity to understand what it is like for researchers to put principles into practice, and to explain the changes that are occurring.

The events consist of a kick-off session and a series of ethics lunches around important research ethics themes.


Monday 2nd December 2019 - 12:00-14:00

Campus Etterbeek - Promotiezaal
Kick-off Session: Research that counts: can research assessments take account of more than just publications?

‘Publish or perish’ has for many years been the sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of academic researchers. However, a more accurate, and perhaps more disturbing slogan might be ‘Perform or perish’: researchers are held to account for their activities by a limited range of quantitative indicators, such as journal impact factors, that put them under pressure to perform. Is this really the best way for a university to contribute to a better society?  

This session is a chance for the VUB community to reflect on quantitative indicators, and ask critical questions about their role in our academic community. The session provides an opportunity to reflect on the key questions around evaluation of research outputs: 

  • Can we evaluate the true worth of scientific research? What do core concepts like excellent and relevant mean, and are they properly taken up in quantitative criteria? 
  • What effects do evaluation systems have on research itself? How can evaluation contribute to encouraging research that is valuable and innovative, and which is able to ask challenging questions? 
  • Is quantitative evaluation really the best way to evaluate science? Can we do without quantitative evaluation, or indeed without evaluation altogether? 
  • What can we do about all this? What alternatives to the current evaluation models exist, and how much leeway does a university such as the VUB have to implement alternative models? 

Go to registration


Tuesday 3rd December 2019 - 12:00-14:00

VUB Campus Etterbeek - Groene Zaal
Lunch Session 1: Thinking Machines: the ethics of Artificial Intellingence

Artificial Intelligence is a technology that challenges some of the basic frameworks we use to think about the world: can a machine make ethical decisions? Should robots have rights? Is artificial intelligence the next stage in evolution? 

This session takes a practical approach and asks whether our ethical frameworks are adequate to address the challenges that artificial intelligence presents. We will look at some major funding calls in artificial intelligence, and ask how we as researchers would address the ethical issues that arise. We welcome proposals from researchers for funding calls we could address during the session.  

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Tuesday 3rd December 2019 - 13:00-15:00

VUB Campus Jette - Audiotorium 1 [NOTE CHANGE OF LOCATION!]
Lunch Session 2 (Jette): Gene genius: CRISPR-Cas and gene editing in the lab

‘Game changer’; ‘disruptor’; ‘spectacular’. The hype around CRISPR-Cas and gene editing techniques is enormous. For many researchers, the potential is also real: from ‘fixing’ disease-causing mutations in humans, to making crops more resilient, and managing destructive insects. However, any technology with great potential brings risks with it: the gene therapy field is still recovering from a clinical trial in the 1990s that went wrong and led to the death of a patient. This session asks how we can manage the risks and the potential of medical applications of CRISPR-Cas 

  • What effects can changing one part of a genome have other parts of the genome – and can we predict these effects? 
  • CRISPR-Cas is cheap and accessible: but is that a good thing? 
  • Can we manage the expectations about what CRISPR-Cas can achieve? 
  • How do we regulate new technologies – and can the regulation keep up? 

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Tuesday 3rd December 2019 - 19:00-21:00
Science Bar Brussel: Do you like golden bananas?

Lust jij gouden bananen? Een wetenschapscafé over voedselproblemen en de rol van wetenschap

We eten met zijn allen zo’n 100 miljard bananen per jaar. Bananen vormen dan ook een cruciaal onderdeel van het dieet van mensen overal ter wereld. In Oeganda betekent het woord matooke zowel 'banaan' als 'voedsel'. Bovendien zijn veel mensen afhankelijk van bananen, niet alleen als voedsel, maar ook als levensonderhoud.

Maar de banaan is in gevaar: ziektes vernietigen hele plantages en verspreiden zich over verschillende continenten. Traditionele behandelingen werken niet. Stel dat we bananen – die mensen sowieso vaak kweken en eten – genetisch aanpassen. Kunnen we ze op die manier resistent maken tegen ziektes? M.a.w, kan de wetenschap een 'gouden banaan' produceren die het probleem oplost? In onze volgende Science Bar kijken we naar de rol van wetenschap bij voedselproblemen. We vragen ons af wie verantwoordelijk is voor de situatie waarin we ons bevinden, en of het aan de wetenschap is om ons er weer uit te helpen. Wat zijn de risico’s die gepaard gaan met het aanpassen van voedsel, en zijn er andere oplossingen? Hebben we het ‘recht’ om in te grijpen in de manier waarop mensen lokaal omgaan met hun land? En willen boeren zo’n gouden bananen wel telen, of zou u ze willen eten?

Geen registratie vereist
Locatie: RITCS Café, A. Dansaertstraat 70, 1000 Brussel
Aanvang: 19u00


Wednesday 4th December 2019 - 12:00-14:00

VUB Campus Jette
Lunch Session 3: Ethics and Gerontology: Who Wants to Live Forever?

If you had the possibility to live indefinitely, would you want to?

Among the scientific community, there is a growing acknowledgement that ageing and age-related diseases are not as inevitable as we once thought. The emerging field of rejuvenation biotechnologies hypothesizes that we might even live forever.

This raises many questions: In an already overpopulated world with scarce resources, which impact would extending life spans have on future generations? Are we enhancing quality or quantity of life?

Finally, there is the issue of social injustice - would there be equal access to these extra years and decades?

Let's discuss these questions!

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Wednesday 4th December 18:00-20:00

VUB Campus Etterbeek
Take a position! Positionality and diversity in research

As researchers, we want our discoveries to help people – but what assumptions do we make about the people involved in our projects? And can we overcome those assumptions? 

Every research project involves a small army of people – not just research participants, but research assistants, students, and the people who might ultimately use the research results. Despite our best intentions, it’s difficult to avoid making assumptions about the people involved. Sometimes those assumptions can even be dangerous: for example, car crash test dummies are based on male bodies, which means car safety neglects the needs of half the population. 

This session looks at how we as researchers can deal with the (inevitable) assumptions we make based on our own social positions and our relationship to the people we work with. Our panellists will each pose a dilemma based on their experience of working with people, and the audience will get the chance to help construct a solution. 

This is an interdisciplinary session: researchers from four different faculties will be involved. 

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Thursday 5th December 2019 - 12:00-14:00

VUB Campus Etterbeek
Lunch Session 4: Ethics in an international environment

In a continuously changing international environment, how do universities respond to ethical challenges?

In this session, the VUB International Relations Office will present its new Ethics Reflection Group for Internationalisation.  This group will consist of a number of experts from inside and outside the VUB, and will provide advice on certain situations as well as advice on the general policy of the VUB on ethics and internationalization.

In cooperation with a selection of experts on this topic, this session will be used to further discuss the way the reflection group will operate.

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Thursday 5th December 2019 - 12:00-14:00

VUB Campus Jette
Lunch Session 5: Ethics and Biomedical Sciences

The students from the Research Master's Programme in Biomedical Sciences will organise a session on ethics questions in their research. The session will look at two topics:

We all feel protected from diseases such as polio and the measles, but what happens when people stop vaccinating? Will children start dying again from diseases that we (almost) completely eradicated years ago? Should we make vaccines mandatory to ensure that that will not happen?

This session will look at the possibility of making vaccines mandatory and problems we might encounter during this journey.

- Cryopreservation: for everybody?

Oocyte cryopreservation, sometimes referred to as egg freezing, is a process where a women’s oocytes, or egg cells, are isolated, frozen and stored to preserve their reproductive potential. This allows women to prolong their fertility, and also allows women undergoing treatments that might damage their fertility to still have children. However, there are various legal limits to the process. There are age cut-offs and restrictions on insurance refunds in Belgium. Are such restrictions fair? Are the limits based on rational considerations? And what to do about other issues, such as the question of unused oocytes?

Professor Michel De Vos of the Centre for Reproductive Medicine will participate in this session.

Go to registration

All Week - Monday-Friday

Student Restaurant: Ethics Week Menu

Throughout Ethics Week, the student restaurant will offer a special menu based on the Planetary Health Diet, and each day a VUB researcher will give an opinion based on that day's menu.

Monday: Cod with pesto and bulgur. Discussion: To fish or not to fish? (Prof. Yue Gao)

Tuesday: Risotto with 'forgotten vegetables'. Discussion: Think globally, eat locally (Kamiel Hammenecker)

Wednesday: Falafel Wrap. Discussion: Meat eating: a matter of taste? (Prof. Yoni Van Den Eede)

Thursday: Chili Con Carne with chocolate and cauliflower rice. Discussion: Does chocolate have a dark side? (Prof. Bram Vanschoenwinkel)

Friday: Veggie Tacos with a twist. Discussion: Does food security come first? (Mary Esther Muyoka Toili)




To Registrations

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