Thursday, January 17, 2013

Breach of research ethics

The Wall Street Journal published a piece by data analyst and online-dater Amy Webb.

Webb went "undercover" by posting fictitious male profiles on JDate. Webb then used those profiles to collect data on how female JDaters interacted with her "male" avatars in the online world. She later used her findings to improve her own real profile and subsequently found a mate.

While I'm sure the WSJ intended to highlight the use of analytical skills in real-life decision-making, all I could do was sit in shock at the breach of research ethics.

Has anyone heard of informed consent?

And what about the golden rule: Do no harm?

While I am sure no online daters were in any physical danger during the course of this "research," I would argue that any sort of fraud or misrepresentation in the online dating world represents the potential for real emotional harm. (The case of Manti Te'o, of Notre Dame football and online dating fraud fame being the most recent headline example. While questions abound as to whether or not Te'o was in on the hoax, plenty of online fraudsters have hurt millions. See the Warrior Eli hoax, for example...)

Anyone who spent time e-flirting with JewishDoc1000 and LawMan2346 wasted time, effort, and (quite possibly) emotion on Webb's fraud.

It is doubly insulting that Webb summarizes her findings with an admonishment that women should dumb-down their online dating profiles...
Women: Don't mention work, especially if your job is difficult to explain. You may have the most amazing career on the planet, but it can inadvertently intimidate someone looking at your profile. I realize this sounds horribly regressive, but during my experiment I found that women were attracted to men with high-profile careers, while the majority of men were turned off by powerful women.
While Webb's breach of research ethics isn't as severe as Laud Humphreys' work in the 1960s, it violates the same rules that make his work an example of "what not to do" when conducting research on human behavior.

Shame on Ms. Webb for her sham. And shame on WSJ for lauding this "research."

1 comment:



your insights?