Proxies of trustworthiness: A novel framework to support the performance of trust in Human Health Research

Kate Harvey, Graeme Laurie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Without trust there is no credible human health research (HHR). This article accepts this truism and addresses a crucial question that arises: how can trust continually be promoted in an ever-changing and uncertain HHR environment? The article analyses long-standing mechanisms that are designed to elicit trust—such as consent, anonymization, and transparency—and argues that these are best understood as trust represented by proxies of trustworthiness, i.e., regulatory attempts to convey the trustworthiness of the HHR system and/or its actors. Often, such proxies are assumed to operate as markers that trust exists or, at least, has not been lost. But, since trust can neither be “built” nor “secured,” this is a precarious assumption. Worryingly, there is no existing theoretical account of how to understand and evaluate these proxies of trustworthiness as part of a trusted HHR ecosystem. To remedy this, the paper argues for a radical reimagining of trust and trustworthiness as performative acts that ought to be understood in relation to each other and by reference to the common values at stake. It is shown that proxies of trustworthiness are the operational tools used to perform trustworthiness. It advocates for a values-based approach to understanding the relationship between trust and trustworthiness. This establishes a strong basis for an evaluative framework for proxies of trustworthiness, i.e., to determine how to perform trustworthiness well. Five common proxies in HHR are scrutinized from a values perspective. The contribution is to provide a far-reaching normative and practical framework by which existing and future proxies of trustworthiness can be identified, assessed, maintained, or replaced in rapidly changing HHR regulatory ecosystems where trust itself is crucial to the success of the entire HHR enterprise.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages36
JournalJournal of Bioethical Inquiry
Early online date29 Mar 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Mar 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • trust
  • trustworthiness
  • values
  • cosent
  • privacy
  • human health research
  • anonymisation
  • public engagement
  • transparency


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