Clarifying the concept of the “Social” in risk assessments for human subjects research

Sara R. Jordan, Phillip Gray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


International guidelines for the conduct of research with human participants, such as those put forth by the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS, 2002), recommend that research review committees account for social risk and benefits to society in their review of proposed research. What do the concepts of the “social” and “society” mean in the context of the review of human participants research? Here we analyze concepts of social and society to define the terms: social harm, social risk, social benefit, and benefits to society. We argue that use of these terms invite more questions than answers and beg for difficult empirical research to determine the nature, likelihood, and magnitude of this category of risk and benefit. Until more research is done and these questions are answered, we advise reviewers to adopt an attitude of provisionalism and caution in their review of specifically “social” risks and benefits and “benefits to society.”.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalAccountability in Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2018



  • research benefits
  • Research risks
  • social
  • social science research
  • society

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Library and Information Sciences

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