Research Ethics

Research Ethics

In addition to the research conducted at the AIDE Lab, we also conduct research on the process of research. This includes a variety of paper, guides, and even a book on how to conduct ethical and responsible applied economics research. Drs. Josephson and Michler are both Catalyst at the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS) where they promote open, transparent, and reproducible research. Data and code for all AIDE Lab projects is publicly available. See our resources for conducting Open Science. Existing and ongoing projects are listed below.

Emphasizing the new challenges posed by the data science revolution, digital media, and changing norms, Research Ethics in Applied Economics: A Practical Guide examines the ethical issues faced by quantitative social scientists at each stage of the research process.

The first section of the book considers project development, including issues of project management, selection bias in asking research questions, and political incentives in the development and funding of research ideas. The second section addresses data collection and analysis, discussing concerns about participant rights, data falsification, data management, specification search, p-hacking, and replicability. The final section focuses on sharing results with academic audiences and beyond, with an emphasis on self-plagiarism, social media, and the importance of achieving policy impact. The discussion and related recommendations highlight emergent issues in research ethics.

Featuring perspectives from experienced researchers on how they address ethical issues, this book provides practical guidance to both students and experienced practitioners seeking to navigate ethical issues in their applied economics research.

Principles for ethical behavior in the context of research are codified into rules that may change over time to meet peoples’ needs in specific institutions, including universities and professional associations. This paper aims to spark discussion about a set of ethical choices beyond those addressed by an IRB or recent association policy statements. Our specific focus is topic selection and the role of researchers’ interests and incentives in determining the kinds of research that we do. Using the principle of induced innovation, we show how changing incentives can influence the direction of research effort and thereby affect the kinds of policies or technologies that are supported by available evidence. With this paper, we hope to generate discussion among applied economists about selection bias in research and how we can use insights from economics itself to guide topic selection. Collaborators: W. Masters (Tufts).

Economists have recently adopted pre-analysis plans in response to concerns about robustness and transparency in research. The increased use of registered pre-analysis plans has raised competing concerns that detailed plans are costly to create, overly restrictive, and limit the type of inspiration that stems from exploratory analysis. We consider these competing views of pre-analysis plans, and make a careful distinction between the roles of pre-analysis plans and registries, which provide a record of all planned research. We propose a flexible “packraft” pre-analysis plan approach that offers benefits for a wide variety of experimental and nonexperimental applications in applied economics. Collaborators: S. Janzen (Illinois).

The ethical conduct of research requires the informed consent and voluntary participation of research participants. Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) work to ensure that these ethical standards are met. However, incongruities in perspective and practice exist across regions. In this article, we focus on informed consent as practiced by agricultural and applied economists, with emphasis on research conducted in low income and/or developing countries. IRB regulations are clear but heterogeneous, emphasizing process rather than outcome. The lack of IRBs and institutional reviews in some contexts and the particulars of the principles employed in others may fail to adequately protect research participants. Collaborators: M. Smale (Michigan State).

Ongoing changes to research practices and recent media attention to agricultural and applied economics have raised new ethical problems, but also created opportunities for new solutions. In this paper, we discuss ethical issues facing the profession and propose potential ways in which the field can address these issues. We divide our discussion into two topics. First are ethical issues that arise during the collection, management and analysis of data. Second are ethical issues faced by researchers as they formulate, fund, and disseminate their research. We pay special attention to issues of data dredging or p-hacking and potential ethical issues arising from interaction with the media.