The Ethical Research Project
We help researchers understand the ethical implications of their experiments.
The ethical review process, which determines whether human subjects experiments are allowed to proceed, often hinges upon the speculations and opinions of the members of review boards.
This overreliance on opinion leads to inconsistencies between research institutions in evaluating the circumstances in which different research practices are justifiable; some institutions will overstep ethical bounds, increasing distrust in the scientific community, while others may be overcautious, standing in the way of scientific progress.
We use the tools of scientific inquiry to the understand the conditions under which research participants, and the public in general, consider research practices such as deception to be justifiable. We aspire to:
  • give research participants and the public a greater voice in questions of research ethics,
  • increase the alignment between the ethical standards of scientists and research participants,
  • provide the data needed to make ethical review more consistent, predictable, and fair.
What We Do
We provide a platform for researchers to gauge participants' ethical response to deception experiments using a post-experiment survey (see this example). We share participants' aggregated feedback with those conducting the experiment, the ethics review board(s) of the institution(s) conducting the experiment, and the scientific community (through publications). Participants may opt to withhold their data from any or all of these uses. If you are conducting an experiment and would like to use our infrastructure to study its ethical impact, please contact us.
We conduct surveys to gauge the public's ethical response to controversial, or potentially controversial, experimental designs. We encourage researchers who want feedback on the ethical implications of their experiments to contact us so that we can present them in our survey.
We work with researchers to ensure that the ethical lessons learned from each experiment are shared with the scientific community.
Who We Are
Our founding members are (in alphabetical order) Cristian Bravo-Lillo of Carnegie Mellon University, Serge Egelman of The University of California Berkeley, Stuart Schechter of Microsoft Research, and Janice Tsai of Microsoft Research.
Our Research
Using September 2014 Survey Data

Ethical-Response Survey Report: Fall 2014 , Microsoft Research Technical Report MSR-TR-2014-140. November, 2014.

Using July 2014 Survey Data

Anticipating Experimental Risks Using Surveys , In submission. Released as Microsoft Research Technical Report MSR-TR-2014-139 on October 30, 2014.

Using Ethical-Response Surveys to Identify Sources of Disapproval and Concern with Facebook's Emotional Contagion Experiment and Other Controversial Studies , Microsoft Research Technical Report MSR-TR-2014-97. July, 2014.

Position Papers