At its November meeting last year, RSS Council approved an application from the Data Ethics Special Interest Group to become a fully-fledged section of the RSS, now known as the Data Ethics and Governance section. Council member Peter Elias, who chairs the new section, outlines its current plans.
There has never been a time in the history of the RSS when issues relating to the ethical creation, use, presentation and interpretation of data have been as prominent as they are today. We continue to find novel ways to accumulate, combine and synthesise information, often repurposing data to address issues via research or for business and policy needs. With the introduction of ever more powerful applications of AI and with the development of data science as a discipline comes the inherent danger that we may inadvertently harm or stigmatise individuals, groups, or communities and exacerbate structural inequalities.
The aim of the new Data Ethics and Governance section is to develop a watching brief on these trends, helping to identify and promote best practice in the effective governance and ethical use of data and working as advocates to improve awareness and training.
The inclusion of 'governance' in the title for the section reflects the importance we attach both to understanding and to the practical implementation of ethical safeguarding within the work of statisticians and data scientists. We will work closely and co-operatively with other sections of the RSS, as well as with the many relevant agencies and other professional bodies working in this area, both internationally and with the more established structures for health research.
As a special interest group, members held a ‘Data Ethics day’ within the 2019 RSS annual conference programme in Belfast. This event drew strong interest from across the RSS and from those engaged in related initiatives in both the public and the private sector. The new section will continue to develop and expand the work of the SIG, contributing to the data science professionalisation project with other learned societies, on issues related to misleadingness in the dissemination of statistical information and on the uses of funding formulae for resource allocation.
The section is producing a strategic plan to inform its work plan over the next two years. All members of the RSS will be invited to comment as this is drafted, prior to it being more widely available via the RSS website and other social media channels in March 2021.
Peter Elias is current chair of the Data Ethics and Governance section. To find out more about the section, and subscribe to its mailing list, please visit the section's dedicated page.