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May 17, 2015


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Enrique Guerra Pujol

The "abstract" on SSRN is way too long, and the ethics of the Facebook experiment is not clear at all, especially if one takes a consent-view based of ethics as one's starting point instead of a consequentialist view

Michelle Meyer

Thanks for taking the time to share your concern about the length of my abstract, Enrique; I'm sorry you felt it wasn't worth your time.

Moving on to the merits, as it were, the actual article doesn't, in fact, suggest that the ethics of the Facebook experiment are "clear" (nor do the Wired or Nature articles). Nor does the article take consequentialism as a "starting point." To the contrary, as the abstract says: "the Belmont Report,. . . codified in the federal Common Rule, appropriately permits prima facie duties to obtain subjects’ informed consent to be overridden when obtaining consent would be infeasible and risks to subjects are no more than minimal." Recognizing informed consent as a prima facie duty makes consent the starting point, albeit not necessarily the ending point.

As I explain in Part II.B, the Belmont Report (and the Common Rule that codifies it) balances welfare and autonomy (aka the principles of beneficence and respect for persons' autonomy) without fetishizing either at the expense of the other. If you think this approach is wrong, and that an absolute rule of obtaining participants' fully informed consent in every instance of systematic learning is ethically (or legally?) required, I would be interested in whether you think that the studies discussed at pp. 295-98 were unethical and should not have been conducted.

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