Jean-Dominique Polack

Jean-Dominique Polack

New chairman of the Sorbonne University Research Ethics Committee

The members of the REC bring a wide range of expertise to the table in order to examine research protocols from different angles.

Jean-Dominique Polack, Professor of Acoustics at Sorbonne University, is taking over from Mohamed Chetouani as head of the Research Ethics Committee (REC).

What led you to take an interest in ethics research?

Jean-Dominique Polack: I completed my thesis at a psychoacoustics centre in Germany, an experienced which introduced me to the ethical issues inherent in research involving human subjects. Over the course of my career, I held various positions in New Zealand and Denmark, international collaborations which reinforced my belief in the importance of ethics committees which, unlike in France, had already been institutionalized in Anglo-Saxon countries.

When I took up the post of Director of the Institut de formation doctorale at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (UPMC) in 2011, I noticed that research ethics was beginning to be a major issue at the European level, so I included presentations on this issue at the 2014 back-to-school meetings for doctoral students, in collaboration with specialists in the field. The adoption in 2016 of a decree making training in ethics compulsory in doctoral studies marked a positive turning point in the perception of this issue, both by future graduates and by their thesis supervisors.

In 2018, on the advice of the current President of Sorbonne University, who was then Vice-President of Education at UPMC, I also organised conferences on ethics. Today, I still run training sessions on this subject at the doctoral level, which is why, when I found out about the ethics committee at Sorbonne University, I naturally wanted to contribute to it.

What is the difference between ethics and scientific integrity?

J.-D. P. : Scientific integrity means compliance with established standards, regulations and good research practice. If these standards are not followed, penalties may be considered, although their application often depends on the internal policies of each institution.

Unlike scientific integrity, where guidelines are often clear and prescribed, ethics come into play when the solutions are not obvious and require you to come up with your own rules. At the CER Sorbonne University, we strive to apply collectively recognized ethical principles while considering the specific context of each project.

How do you see your role as President of the CER Sorbonne University?

J.-D. P.: First, I see it as a continuation of the work carried out by my predecessor, Mohamed Chetouani. To ensure that the ethical standards of the research projects submitted for our assessment are respected, we have put a rigorous methodology in place. Firstly, dossiers are read at a meeting. Two rapporteurs then analyse any ethical issues (information needed to make a decision, relevance of the statistical analysis, etc.), while the Legal and Institutional Affairs Department (DAJI) and the Data Protection Officer study the legal and regulatory aspects (GDPR). Their joint report is then presented at a meeting where the final ethical opinions are taken collectively. Drafted by the first rapporteur, they are then reviewed and validated by the President.

During this process, I try to facilitate discussion and ensure that decisions are taken in a collegial and informed manner.

Who sits on the CER alongside you?

J.-D. P.: The Sorbonne University CER is legally made up of 15 members of the Sorbonne University Alliance representing different disciplines, a representative of the DAJI, the Sorbonne University Data Protection Officer and an assistant who plays a central role. These members bring a wide range of expertise, allowing us to examine research protocols from different angles and ensure a balanced and objective assessment.

The CER also includes six members of civil society (three have been recruited so far) who provide some valuable insights. Their participation strengthens our commitment to science with and for society.
In terms of projects, what is your outlook for the committee?

J.-D. P. : One of our major projects is to become an Institutional Review Board (IRB). This certification, which is widely recognised internationally, will enable us to certify that our assessments comply with ethical standards and will facilitate the publication of approved research.
At the same time, we are actively working on improving our IT platform. We are also in the process of launching a call for applications to strengthen our workforce, particularly in the fields of medicine and biology, as almost 70% of applications come from the Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris. The vice-president of the CER Sorbonne University is also a doctor, which facilitates exchanges with this institution.

A graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique and with a doctorate in mechanics, Professor Jean-Dominique Polack also studied in Germany, where he defended his thesis in the field of room acoustics. During his career, he has held various research and teaching posts in France, New Zealand and Denmark, and his international collaborations and multidisciplinary expertise have enabled him to explore different aspects of acoustics (mechanical, psychological, architectural, etc.)

Alongside his academic activities, Jean-Dominique Polack has taken on various responsibilities, including director of the Institut de formation doctorale de l'UPMC and editor-in-chief of a scientific journal. Now President of the French Acoustics Society, he has also directed UPMC's music acoustics laboratory and held management positions at the Institut Jean Le Rond d'Alembert and the university's Engineering UFR.