Research Ethics

Ethics ImageSocial Science One is deeply committed to ensuring that all research it enables is conducted ethically. Of course, achieving consensus about ethical research principles is rare, and especially difficult as societal views morph in response to fast moving technological developments, increasingly informative data collection, and ever changing digital products. That's why instead of trying to select specific rules that everyone agrees with, Social Science One institutes the following rigorous ethical processes.

  1. To ensure accountability for the actions of individual researchers, proposals may only be submitted by colleges and universities on behalf of faculty or others with Principal Investigator (PI) rights.

    1. Before awarding access, the researcher's university must be a party to all necessary data access agreements.

    2. Students, post-doctoral fellows, and others may participate as co-PIs on faculty-led projects.

  2. To submit proposals, PIs must receive approval from their own university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), or the equivalent in other countries.

    1. Under US federal regulations, applicants are not permitted to determine whether their research is exempt or otherwise meets the rules, and so all applicants must go through this process.

    2. Applicants from countries where their IRB equivalent does not certify Common Law compliance (mostly from outside the US and Western nations) must obtain certification from an external IRB, such as the Western IRB.

  3. Peer reviewers are asked to evaluate each proposal’s scientific merit and its potential benefits to society, and at the same time are asked to review the ethical track record of the proposed investigator, and the potential costs of the research to research subjects and others. This process is designed to ensure that only responsible researchers are granted access in appropriate circumstances.

  4. All proposals that pass standard peer review are sent for a separate ethics review, by independent ethicists specializing in the types of data we will make available, both convened by the SSRC. This step is especially useful for universities with IRBs members who are not up to date on the ethical problems involved in social science analyses.

  5. All funded research must follow the “replication standard” and thereby produce and archive replication data files. This means that published research completed under grants from this process will be replicable by other researchers, under specialized conditions which we will develop and publish. Issues of privacy, confidentiality, and respondent data ownership obviously complicate this process, but we have several procedures available to us we will use. For example, a formal citation will be established for every data set with a “universal numeric fingerprint” that uniquely identifies a dataset even if the format in which it is stored changes and a persistent identifier. The code, methodological details, and metadata (but not data) will be publicly available in Dataverse. And the full replication archive, including the data and all procedures necessary to replicate the analysis will be available internally at the company, where we will arrange for access by academics.

  6. The independence of academic research from private firms and nonprofit foundations with substantive interests or ideological preferences will be protected. Having multiple foundations with differing perspectives is helpful for these highly charged partisan or sensitive issues. Social Science One has adopted special rules to prevent any one foundation from having too much influence over the process - see Funders.

  7. Because of the ever changing nature of ethical understandings, Social Science One enlists researchers in ethics to study our decisions, how they are viewed by other academics and the general public,and how they might be improved. Social Science One uses this information to improve our processes and our decision making. Specifically, Social Science One and SSRC collaborate with the PERVADE (Pervasive Data Ethics for Computational Research) group, a six-institution, NSF-funded research project on data ethics who will offer feedback on our progress, so that we are able to continually improve ethical compliance.