Thursday, May 20, 2010

An ethical question about live user internet research

we're running a complicated experiment to see how people react to information about
their social group and their locale during an epidemic if you give them live information about who (and potentially where) there is some level of infection - this had to go through an ethics committee because it involves health.

now the next phase (or a next phase) involves running an enhanced version of the programme which no longer logs whether a person has a disease, but instead, emulates a set of diseases and a set of values for parameters for Susceptibility, Infectiousness and Recovery, and (still telling the user - but now its a game) tries to see if people will alter their behaviour (i.e. where they go; who they meet) depending on the severity etc - the idea of the latter experiment is that we can run live experiments with hypothetical values for the disease vector and SIR values - the reason we can't just run this on trace data is that there are feedback loops between the disease and the social network dynamics, so whether a given virtual epidemic collapses, stays endemic, or goes pandemic (or some other mode) will be highly dependent on actual users' behavioural dynamics (and might include other facets of behaviour like peer pressure etc)...

Anyhow, the question is this: do we still need formal Ethical approval for this latter experiment?


readza said...

My answers is yes, if you're going to actually elicit realistic responses to infection threats.
It's not clear to me whether you're deceiving the participant that the infection information you provide them with is real or not. If the participants know it's not real, it is just a game for them. Without perceived consequences for their actions being close to those we'd be interested in in a real situation, it tells you about how people respond in your game, but not in real life.
Hopefully we can get wider discussion on this sort of issue at the June workshop.

dmerasty said...


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