From dignity to security protocols: a scientometric analysis of digital ethics

René Mahieu, Nees Jan van Eck, David van Putten, Jeroen van Den Hoven

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
38 Downloads (Pure)


Our lives are increasingly intertwined with the digital realm, and with new technology, new ethical problems emerge. The academic field that addresses these problems—which we tentatively call ‘digital ethics’—can be an important intellectual resource for policy making and regulation. This is why it is important to understand how the new ethical challenges of a digital society are being met by academic research. We have undertaken a scientometric analysis to arrive at a better understanding of the nature, scope and dynamics of the field of digital ethics. Our approach in this paper shows how the field of digital ethics is distributed over various academic disciplines. By first having experts select a collection of keywords central to digital ethics, we have generated a dataset of articles discussing these issues. This approach allows us to generate a scientometric visualisation of the field of digital ethics, without being constrained by any preconceived definitions of academic disciplines. We have first of all found that the number of publications pertaining to digital ethics is exponentially increasing. We furthermore established that whereas one may expect digital ethics to be a species of ethics, we in fact found that the various questions pertaining to digital ethics are predominantly being discussed in computer science, law and biomedical science. It is in these fields, more than in the independent field of ethics, that ethical discourse is being developed around concrete and often technical issues. Moreover, it appears that some important ethical values are very prominent in one field (e.g., autonomy in medical science), while being almost absent in others. We conclude that to get a thorough understanding of, and grip on, all the hard ethical questions of a digital society, ethicists, policy makers and legal scholars will need to familiarize themselves with the concrete and practical work that is being done across a range of different scientific fields to deal with these questions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalEthics and Information Technology
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Data protection
  • Digital ethics’
  • GDPR
  • Inter-disciplinarity
  • Multi-disciplinarity
  • Privacy
  • Scientometrics
  • Term map

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