•August 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment
Following on my recent blog posting about the Facebook emotion-manipulation study, here’s a useful piece from The Atlantic: How Much Should You Know About How Facebook Works?
The piece focuses on the ubiquity of constantly-tweaked algorithms in online services such as Google and Facebook. The algorithms such companies use today are quite different from the ones they used 5 years ago, in part because the companies are constantly experimenting and using the results of those experiments to adjust the “math” behind your Facebook newsfeed and your Google search results.
Cornell professor Jeff Hancock, one of the authors of the infamous study, is quoted as asking: “If you think about Google search and you say, ‘I don’t want to be experimented on,’ then the question is, well, what does that mean?”
•July 24, 2014 • 1 Comment
Over at my Business Ethics Blog, I just posted my thoughts on the recent controversy over the Facebook / Cornell study. I look at the question not of the ethics of the Cornell researchers, but of Facebook as a corporation I basically argue that:
a) the risks involved were trivial;
b) the commercial context matters, and permits certain kinds of experimentation;
c) the study was, from Facebook’s point of view, closer to ‘program evaluation,’ (i.e., closer to a kind of study that is normally exempt from research regulations anyway).
You can read the whole thing, here: Facebook’s Study Did No Wrong.
Here also is the view of 33 bioethicists, published in Nature, saying that while prior ethical review would have been a good idea, the study was not fundamentally unethical:
Misjudgements will drive social trials underground.
•November 22, 2012 • Leave a Comment
A team led by our friend and colleague Charles Weijer at the University of Western Ontario has just issued guideliens for what are known as “cluster randomized trials” (CRTs).
See the story here:
Western-led team delivers world-first ethics guidelines.
CRTs are clinical trials in which randomization occurs across groups of participants, or across institutions, rather than across individual participants. In other words, each participant is not randomized into one arm of the trial or another. Rather, randomization is done at the higher level — an entire institution’s patient, population is treated as a unit for purposes of randomization. This raises a number of interesting ethical issues. These new guidelines will surely help advance our understanding, as well as highlighting an important range of issues for those of us not previously aware of them.
•January 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment
Canada’s Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics has begun putting online its interpretations of the second iteration of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (a.k.a. “TCPS2”).
“The Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics (the Panel) is pleased to share a growing collection of its responses to written requests for interpretation….”
The website also explains the role of the Panel in interpreting the TCPS2, as well as featuring a nifty feedback function attached to each interpretive note.
•January 14, 2012 • Leave a Comment
Here’s an interesting bit on one Chinese university’s efforts to crack down on research misconduct:
From Nature: Research ethics: Zero tolerance — A university cracks down on misconduct in China.
Most readers of this blog will know that research misconduct doesn’t fall under the heading of Research Ethics, as that term is normally applied to the work of Research Ethics Boards and Institutional Review Boards. But neither are the issues entirely separate.
Here’s a paragraph I found particularly interesting, about the causes of misconduct:
Cao and other experts on misconduct point to specific contributing factors. China’s research system has developed very rapidly, and universities are scrambling to train the influx of students, scientists and administrators. “As a large, newly developed system of research, China does not have the control of its research programmes that is found in the West,” says Nicholas Steneck, who studies research integrity at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Some researchers are simply oblivious to the rules, says Zhong Haining, a neuroscientist who trained at Tsinghua University and is now starting a lab at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. “The official guideline for scientific misconduct may (or may not) exist, but it’s not very well publicized, at least not emphasized so much in training,” he says.
I wonder if the causes of misconduct are so different in other places?