Adverse Events and Placebo Effects: African Scientists, HIV, and Ethics in the 'Global Health Sciences'
Social studies of science 2010 Dec; 40(6): 843-70
This paper builds on the growing literature in 'postcolonial technoscience' by examining how science and ethics travel in transnational HIV research. I use examples of two controversial US-funded studies of mother-to-child transmission in Africa as case studies through which to explore quandaries of difference and inequality in global health research. My aim is not to adjudicate the debates over these studies, but rather to raise some questions about transnational research, science, and ethics that often get lost in public controversies over the moral status of such trials. Using interviews conducted with American and Ugandan HIV researchers as well as relevant material published in the popular and medical press, I argue that debates over research practice and the conditions under which practices are deemed ethically legitimate or questionable reflect the challenges faced by African researchers seeking to participate in global health science. In doing so, I show how questions of scientific legitimacy and authority are played out in debates over who decides what constitutes 'the normal' in human biological research and who can legitimately 'speak for Africa' regarding the ethics of research design and practice. I conclude that researchers from'resource-poor settings' must often walk a tightrope between claims of difference from the global North and assertions of sameness, in which a claim too forceful in either direction can undermine the ethical--and thus scientific--legitimacy of their research.
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