Ethics versus Permissions

Today we’ve been discussing ethics and research. I’m very happy to see ethics being discussed in research articles, but from the perspective of someone not in an environment ‘governed’ by IRB decisions, we’re following the developments with some concern.

Let me be clear, ethics in research is a good and essential part of what we’re doing. What is worrying, though, is the formalization of ethics decisions to the extent that a commission decides and approves which research is ethically legitimate and gets a permission to go ahead. No permission, no research.

Increasingly, journals ask for IRB approval when we submit our research to them. To the extent that this encourages a discussion of research ethics and practices to match, I welcome this. To the extent that it takes one way of doing research ethics for granted (the way of IRB approvals), I’m not so sure.

A challenge in interdisciplinary panels is that we mean quite different things when we use the same terminology, like “covert research”. Because it’s formalized, there is a real risk that the instruments we use for ethical research — like informed consent forms — become a principle in themselves, not the underlying concerns for the respect for people. With that, we drive researchers to find creative ways to fulfil the formal requirements, but we do not necessarily encourage them to think about the ethical implications of the research.

When we’re in the logic of permissions and approvals, the incentives for the researchers are simply to follow a certain procedure. For the institutions, the incentives are to minimize the risk of being sued, and this may not necessarily align with ethical research practices. Will we soon have to submit a DOI for the approvals when we submit to journals as proof that we’ve followed the procedures, just so that we can demonstrate we’re not to blame? It won’t be about ethical guidance when we feel we need it, or a comforting second opinion, but a matter of form. Is there still time to take matters in our own hands and design research ethics from the bottom up? Or is the IRB way inevitable?

Salganik, Matthew J. 2017. Bit by Bit: Social Research in the Digital Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Survey fieldwork during the pandemic

Joseph Teye and Leander Kandilige share their experience from conducting survey fieldwork during the Covid-19 pandemic on the MIGNEX blog. They include everything, from planning to training and of course the actual fieldwork. There’s a discussion of financial implications, and paramount safety.

For once, it’s not all about Zoom and Skype; no, there’s another world out there!

Read all about it here: https://www.mignex.org/publications/conducting-surveys-safely-during-pandemic-perspectives-ghana

Out now! A Global Dataset of COVID-19 Restrictions on Human Movement

I’m very happy to announce a new publication describing a new, global dataset of COVID-19 restrictions on human movement. In the research note, we introduce the Citizenship, Migration and Mobility in a Pandemic (CMMP): A dataset which features systematic information on border closures and domestic lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 outbreak in 211 countries and territories worldwide. We document the evolution of the types and scope of international travel bans and exceptions to them, as well as internal measures including limitations of non-essential movement and curfews in 27 countries.

Now it’s your turn! Can we explain variation in restriction on human movement? Did these restrictions affect the pandemic?

Piccoli, Lorenzo, Jelena Dzankic, and Didier Ruedin. 2021. ‘Citizenship, Migration and Mobility in a Pandemic (CMMP): A Global Dataset of COVID-19 Restrictions on Human Movement’. PLoS ONE. 16(3): e0248066.  Open Access

p-hacking: try it yourself!

It’s not new, but it’s still worth sharing:

The instructions go: “You’re a social scientist with a hunch: The U.S. economy is affected by whether Republicans or Democrats are in office. Try to show that a connection exists, using real data going back to 1948. For your results to be publishable in an academic journal, you’ll need to prove that they are “statistically significant” by achieving a low enough p-value.”

The tool is here: https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/p-hacking/

And more on p-hacking here: Wikipedia — to understand why “success” in the above is not what it seems.