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Facebook fiasco: was Cornell’s study of ‘emotional contagion’ an ethics breach? – The Guardian (Chris Chamber 2014)0

Posted by Admin in on January 9, 2016

“It’s become farcical. Whoever we ask, nobody seems to know anything. Did the study have ethical approval? First the answer was yes. Then it was no. Then it was maybe. Then it was no again. Was it funded by the US army? First the university said yes. Then it said no, without explanation. Why did the scientific journal not state whether the study was ethically approved, as required by its own policy? Sorry, editor Susan Fiske told me, I’m too busy to answer that question.

I’m referring of course to the study published last week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in which researchers from Facebook and Cornell University teamed up to study “emotional contagion”. Over a one-week period in 2012, they changed the content of news feeds for a random sample of Facebook users. For one group of users they removed content that contained positive words, for another group they removed content that contained negative words. They then measured whether subtly biasing the emotional content in this way changed the emotional content of status updates by the users. Sure enough it did. Making feeds more negative led to more negative behaviour, and vice versa.

Scientifically, the study is remarkable in some ways and unremarkable in others. The sample size of 689,003 is truly huge – possibly the largest in the history of psychology. And the results are interesting insofar as they show that very small changes in the emotional state of our environment can have knock-on effects for how we act (and presumably how we feel) in social networks. On the other hand, the effects in the study are minuscule, among the smallest statistically significant results ever published. As psychologist Tal Yarkoni has pointed out, were the effects to be expressed in terms of average human height, they would have an effect of just one 20th of an inch across the entire male population of the United States.”

Chamber C (2014, 1 July) Facebook fiasco: was Cornell’s study of ‘emotional contagion’ an ethics breach? The Guardian. Retrieved from (accessed 5 December 2015)

(Reference from the updated Booklet 37 of the Griffith University Research Ethics Manual. Perpetual licences are available for use by all researchers within an institution. Institutions have used the GUREM as the basis for producing their own research ethics manual, as a professional development resource and a teaching and learning materials for HDR candidates.)

Also see
1. (25/03/14) Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks
2. (01/04/14) Facebook fiasco: was Cornell’s study of ‘emotional contagion’ an ethics breach? 
3. (10/05/15) Social media personhood as a challenge to research ethics: Exploring the case of the Facebook experiment
4. (10/05/15) Untangling research and practice: What Facebook’s “emotional contagion” study teaches us
5. (20/05/16) Scientists are just as confused about the ethics of big-data research as you
6. (17/06/16) Are Research Ethics Obsolete In The Era Of Big Data?

Authorship abuse is the dark side of collaboration – Times Higher Education (Bruce Macfarlane 2015)0

Posted by Admin in on January 6, 2016

“When I interviewed academics about ethical issues recently, a recurring gripe was that they had been under-credited when publishing with others. Most experienced researchers seemed to have a similar war story.

This was once a problem largely confined to the hard sciences, where it is usual to see long lists of contributors, but it has recently become much more common among social scientists. In education, for example, multiple authorship is now the norm. Educational Studies, a leading journal in the field, had an average of 1.13 authors per paper in 1975; by 2014, it was 2.76.

The order in which names appear on an academic publication matters a lot. First authorship is a prestige indicator. Citations, invitations to speak and requests to review papers and grant proposals are all likely to go to the first author, and the number of first authorships is a crucial factor in appointment, promotion and tenure decisions. It may influence judgements about whether to include an academic in an audit return, such as the research excellence framework. Moreover, in various parts of the world, including China and Japan, PhD students need to publish as first authors before they are allowed to graduate.”

Times Higher Education. (2015). Authorship abuse is the dark side of collaboration’. Retrieved 7 January, from

Common Rule Revision – The Ethics Police Fight Back – Social Science Space (Robert Dingwall 2015)0

Posted by Admin in on December 20, 2015

“As might have been expected, the proposed revisions to the Common Rule regulating research ethics in federally funded research in the U.S. have not gone unchallenged.

The proposals are contained in a long and complex document. Even those of us who take a close interest in these things have struggled to assimilate 500 pages of dense prose. It is not, then, unreasonable that the consultation period has been extended by another 30 days. However, it is important that scholars who basically support the proposals take advantage of this to express positive views – because it is clear that there is a determined push back.

As I outlined in a previous blog, these revisions would mean that most social science research would be excluded from IRB review.

Any research involving standardized testing, surveys, interviews, or observations, including audio and video recording, of public behavior, including behavior online, will be able to proceed without further review. Certain types of experimental work will also be excluded, where participants experience ‘benign interventions [which are] brief in duration, harmless, painless, not physically invasive, not likely to have a significant adverse lasting impact…[or to be] offensive or embarrassing.’ These studies may include an element of deception provided the participant agrees to this in advance. Oral history, journalism, biography and historical scholarship about named individuals can proceed solely with reference to the disciplines’ own codes of ethics. The secondary analysis of administrative data, including many health and criminal justice records, even in identifiable form, will be excluded from review provided it complies with data protection legislation. Some research with children would still require review: standardized tests and non-participant observation would be excluded but not surveys, interviews and participant observation.”

Read the full item here.
Also see the earlier item about the change to the Common Rule

179 professors indicted in research publishing scam – University World News (Unsoo Jung 2015)0

Posted by Admin in on December 18, 2015

“In an unprecedented crackdown on academic misconduct, as many as 179 university professors from some 110 universities in South Korea were indicted on Monday after an extensive criminal investigation into a huge copyright scam.

The professors have been charged with republishing existing textbooks written by others under their own names by modifying the covers with the alleged connivance of the publishing companies.

According to the Prosecutors’ Office which conducted an extensive criminal investigation, this is the first time university professors have faced criminal charges for copyright violations using ‘cover-swapping’ tricks. It is also the first time so many professors have been indicted in a single investigation.

The unprecedented scale of violations has severely shaken the academic community and could have wider repercussions on public trust in academia, validity of research, and the global ranking of South Korean universities.”

Click here to view the full news report