Monday, June 30, 2014

A Bit of Historical Perspective on the Facebook Flap

IRBs and behavioral research are all over the news, as a result of a paper that manipulated the news feeds of 689,003 Facebook users.

[Kramer, Adam D. I., Jamie E. Guillory, and Jeffrey T. Hancock. “Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, no. 24 (June 17, 2014): 8788–90. doi:10.1073/pnas.1320040111.]

Michelle Meyer has posted a detailed analysis of the regulatory context, explaining multiple ways a project like this could have been approved. She concludes that "so long as we allow private entities freely to engage in these practices, we ought not unduly restrain academics trying to determine their effects."

[Meyer, Michelle N. “How an IRB Could Have Legitimately Approved the Facebook Experiment—and Why That May Be a Good Thing.” The Faculty Lounge, June 29, 2014.]

I have little to add to Meyer's excellent post, except a bit of historical perspective. Psychological experiments—whether in the lab, in the field, or online—fall outside my main area of concern, but perhaps I can offer a few relevant points.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


How good is TCPS2, Canada's current framework of research regulation?

Martin Tolich, with co-authors, thinks it's pretty good. He suggests that at the very least, it can serve as a starting point for other countries interested in reforming their systems of research ethics oversight to make them more responsive to the concerns of social scientists and the people they study.

[Tolich, M, and BP Smith. “Evolving Ethics envy—New Zealand Sociologists Reading the Canadian Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans.” KĊtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online 9, no. 1 (2014): 1–10. doi:10.1080/1177083X.2013.867513; Hoonaard, Will C. van den, and Martin Tolich. “The New Brunswick Declaration of Research Ethics: A Simple and Radical Perspective.” Canadian Journal of Sociology 39, no. 1 (March 31, 2014): 87 – 98]