Background: There has been debate on whether a global or unified field of bioethics exists. If bioethics is a unified global field, or at the very least a closely shared way of thinking, then we should expect bioethicists to behave the same way in their academic activities anywhere in the world. This paper investigates whether there is a 'global bioethics' in the sense of a unified academic community. Methods: To address this question, we study the web-linking patterns of bioethics institutions, the citation patterns of bioethics papers and the buying patterns of bioethics books. Results: All three analyses indicate that there are geographical and institutional differences in the academic behavior of bioethicists and bioethics institutions. Conclusion: These exploratory studies support the position that there is no unified global field of bioethics. This is a problem if the only reason is parochialism. But these regional differences are probably of less concern if one notices that bioethics comes in many not always mutually understandable dialects. © 2006 Holm and Williams-Jones; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.