Oxford University will host a new research platform in ethics and humanities thanks to a new Wellcome programme aimed at empowering researchers to overcome barriers holding back progress in their fields of research.
Wellcome’s £73 million programme will fund eight new Discovery Research Platforms, including the Discovery Research ANTITHESES Platform for Transformative Inclusivity in Ethics and Humanities Research, hosted in the Nuffield Department for Population Health at the University of Oxford.
The platform’s team plans to develop new concepts, methods and tools that address issues of conflicting values in society, including real-time digital mapping of value disagreements and facilitating engagement with excluded voices and problems.
Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre (OHBRC) Theme Leader for Flourishing and Wellbeing Professor Ilina Singh, leads the Neuroscience, Ethics and Society Team (NEUROSEC) in Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry. ANTITHESES enables the founding of the Design Bioethics Lab there, working to co-design purpose-built engineered tools to investigate ‘collective minds’ decision-making, values and disagreements. The Design Bioethics Lab’s first set of projects is motivated by the question: What do we owe future generations? Work with the groups NeurOx Young People’s Advisory Group suggested that a focus on the relationship between climate health and mental wellbeing should be a priority.
We are delighted to be part of Wellcome’s Discovery research. The ANTITHESES Platform for Transformative Inclusivity in Ethics and Humanities addresses an urgent need for research which can engage meaningfully with the radical value disagreements, polarisation, and informational uncertainty characteristic of contemporary medical science, practice and policy.
She added: “Available approaches to ethics and humanities research lack the concepts, methods, and tools to do this work. They have insufficient diversity of voices, and have tended to exclude some problems and values as not ‘worthy’ of investigation or ‘too difficult’. That is why new approaches are needed.
“The ‘collective minds’ approach argues that decision-making processes in young people, particularly in an age of social media, may be better captured through ecological theories and methods such as swarm or hive-minds, rather than the current prevailing emphasis on individual decision-making.
“We will develop relevant tools, using a highly interdisciplinary approach that builds on our pioneering methods in co-design and digital innovation, by harnessing advanced computational methods such as neural network modelling.
“The ambitions of the Design Bioethics Lab, and the ANTITHESES Discovery Platform as a whole, extend and amplify our research group NEUROSEC’s role in co-leading the Flourishing and Wellbeing Theme of the Oxford Health BRC, funded by the NIHR.”
The ANTITHESIS Discovery Platform at Oxford will bring together expertise from history, philosophy, fine arts, design bioethics, sociology, and global bioethics.
Michael Dunn, Director of Discovery Research at Wellcome, said: “Discovery research is essential to advancing our ability to understand and improve health. But in addition to researchers’ bold and imaginative ideas, we know that new tools, methods and capabilities are also needed to unlock new avenues of research that can disrupt and transform the research landscape globally.”
“As part of our commitment to fund curiosity-driven discovery research, we want to tackle some of the barriers and bottlenecks across fields which hold back progress and limit the ability of researchers to take on big, challenging questions. Discovery Research Platforms are a brand-new approach for Wellcome. By providing substantial support focused on specific research challenges, these environments have the potential to revolutionise fields and provide maximum possible benefit for researchers around the world.”
Wellcome plans to convene all eight Discovery Research Platforms over the next year to encourage collaboration and the exchange of best practice between researchers and teams working in these environments.