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BIOETHICS: SUBJECT GUIDE: Bioethics 272: Public Health Ethics

Starting points for research in bioethics

Digging into a topic

You have several assignments coming up: a final paper, and an op-ed, both of which will require you to engage with a "current public health" topic. How do you figure out a topic that you want to study? How will you research the issues that you need to engage with? 

Once you've identified your topic, you can start picking out the themes, issues, and arguments you might explore. You may be inspired by your course readings, or by a news headline. For example, you might start with a newspaper article such as this one: 

1) After you've had the start of an idea for a topic (whether inspired by a newspaper article or otherwise, you can start to explore the issues by concept mapping. See below for more information about how to create a concept map to explore some possible lines of inquiry. 

Practice: What are the major themes of the NYT article ("The Impact of Disparities on Children's Health") that you just read? What did you learn from this article that you didn't know before? What questions do you still have? 

2) Once you have begun to identify the issues that you will explore, you can consider how you will go about conducting research into those issues. Some starting points might be: 

a) Consult a tertiary source, such as the Bioethics encyclopedia, or the Oxford Handbook of Public Health Ethics, to learn more contextual information about a topic. 

Practice: Browse the table of contents from your assigned tertiary source and identify two entries that would be helpful for research on children's health disparities. 

b) Use the 'Find Articles' tab to identify useful databases and key bioethics journals that could be helpful for 

Practice: using search terms from your concept map, search either PubMed or the American Journal of Bioethics to look for relevant literature on your topic. 


Concept Mapping

Concept maps are a tool to help you:

  • explore your topic;
  • discover possible lines of inquiry;
  • consider search terms;
  • brainstorm resources to investigate.

Ask yourself: what do I already know about my topic? what am I curious about? what kind of data do I need, and where am I likely to find that data? Creating a map of these subtopics that will help you flesh out your topic. Keep in mind that this map may include as many questions as it does ideas...after all, you haven't researched your topic yet! Also remember that you are not expected to address all of the subtopics in your work, nor would it be wise for you to try. You will likely focus on just one or two areas of your map for your final research. 

The process is simple: start with your big, broad topic in the middle of your page. 

  • Take 5 minutes and brainstorm aspects of that topic that interest, confuse, or intrigue you. Ask yourself:
    • How does this work? 
    • Who does it affect?
    • How can it be measured or studied? 
    • What is already known? What is unknown?   
  • In the space around the central concept, make notes of words or phrases that answer the above questions
  • Continue to fill out your branches with ideas or questions about your topic, or about the types of resources you may wish to start with. 


Bioethics Encyclopedia 4th Edition

Oxford Handbook of Public Health Ethics