CESS Ethics

The CESS team cares deeply about protecting the rights and privacy of the individuals who help us by participating in our experiments. We place the highest priority on ensuring the protection of all of our subjects and have designed a series of procedures before, during, and after any experiment to ensure that subject’s rights are respected. Any researcher who conducts research through CESS must adhere to the following principles as determined by CESS’s independent ethics review board. Although all research conducted in collaboration with CESS requires internal ethics approval, we encourage all researchers to seek additional approval from the ethics committees present at their own institutions.

CESS Ethical Review

All researchers interested in running an experiment through CESS must first gain approval from CESS’s independent review board. The review board is comprised of behavioral social scientists who review each design to ensure that it conforms to CESS’s core principles. Ethics approval for research at any of CESS’s centres is conducted centrally in Oxford. Researchers can apply for ethical review by providing the following information regarding their proposed study:

  • The name of affiliation of all researchers involved with project.
  • Agreement to CESS’s policies.
  • A detailed outline of the experimental design and any treatment variations including any survey questions that will be asked during the course of the study.
  • A consent form that provides subjects with all necessary information to make an informed decision on whether they would like to participate.
  • A detailed explanation of how the proposed design adheres to CESS’s core policies.
  • Evidence of appropriate prior ethics training for all researchers involved.

When a researcher feels they have provided all necessary information, CESS sends out their application for an independent review by two anonymous reviewers. The reviewers each make a decision on whether the project is rules compliant, if they require additional information to make a determination, or if the proposed study violates one of CESS’s core principles. Any comments are sent back to the researchers and where necessary, the researcher must make the necessary adjustments prior to undergoing additional rounds of review. Studies can only be conducted after obtaining approval from two independent reviewers. We encourage all interested researchers to review the detailed explanation of CESS’s core principles below prior to starting an ethics submission.

Individuals interested in applying for CESS ethics review can do through the button below.

Note: Ethics review is only open to researchers currently collaborating with CESS. If are interested in receiving an estimate for running an experiment please visit this page.

CESS Reviewers

To keep the review process independent of undue influence from CESS, we ask reviewers to review applications on a voluntary basis and all reviews are conducted anonymously. The review team is generally comprised of junior faculty and researchers who have already received their doctoral degree in a related field and have a plethora of experience with experimental social science research. We ask all reviewers to provide evidence of prior ethics training and to keep up to date on current ethical practice. Reviewers are asked to serve on the committee for 10 reviews or 12 months, whichever occurs first. At any time, CESS has 5-10 active reviewers that compromise a diverse range of expertise with field, online, and laboratory experiments. We do our best to additionally ensure there are at least 2-4 reviewers with the ability to review applications in Spanish.

When an ethics application is submitted, the current lab manager at CESS reviews it to make sure it is complete and contains no flagrant ethical issues. CESS sends the application to two reviewers and ask them to complete the initial review within 10 business days. The researcher receives any comments and the outcome of their application but never receives information about who reviewed their materials.

Principles for conducting Human Subjects Research in collaboration with CESS

Our principles for conducting any form of Human Subjects Research are modeled after the commonly accepted practices used by Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) in the United States, the guidelines provided by the Central University Research Ethics Committee (CUREC) at the University of Oxford and the rules established by the Data Protection Acts of 1998 and 2018. In addition to completing a yearly review of our practices to remain consistent with what is currently appropriate, we additionally consider the constant evolution of common practice within experimental social science.

The core principles of CESS Ethics are:

  • Respect for Persons – Subjects must be treated as autonomous beings and in the case where they are not autonomous must be treated with special consideration. The primary way this is ensured is through informed consent and freedom from coercion.
  • Beneficence – All subjects and researchers are protected from being harmed physically, psychologically, and emotionally during the course of all research. In the case where some harm may occur, it must be minimized as much as possible and be shown that the anticipated benefits to the subject far outweigh the risks. The anticipated benefits do not include the potential long-term benefits produced by the research.
    • In the case of potential harm, researchers must provide adequate justification for why the risks are absolutely necessary for their research and description of what safeguards are put in place to minimize the risk while ensuring that the anticipated benefits are adequately large.
  • Justice – All subjects are treated fairly and research is designed such that benefits and burdens are distributed equally. Generally, this is produced by requiring that subjects are sampled at random unless the research requires a particular demographic mix. Even in this case, subjects are randomly sampled from the subset of the subject pool that is being targeted. Participation and registration are usually given on a first-come first-served basis. However, in the case of overbooking, subjects are first given the option to opt-out of the session prior to using arrival time.

Methods for Ensuring Adherence to CESS Core Principles

Below, we describe the processes CESS uses to ensure adherence to the aforementioned ethics principles. All researchers are expected to employ the following methods to guarantee that their research conforms to commonly accepted practices within the experimental social sciences.

  • Informed Consent – All subjects must receive and confirm their understanding and agreement to the general practices used at CESS in addition to the specific stimuli that will be presented during any experiment they participate in through CESS.
    • All subjects must review and sign a set of CESS rules prior to participating in any experimental research. This document outlines the rights afforded to all CESS subjects which include but are not limited to confidentiality of all data, payment for participation, the right to withdraw from any study without providing a reason, protection from coercion, and the right to request additional information prior to, during, and after participating in any experiment. The rules sheet signed by all subjects can be found here.
    • Additionally, all researchers are required to provide an informed consent sheet as part of the ethics review process. The informed consent form must outline the purpose of the study, what subjects will be asked to do during the course of the study, all risks and benefits that may result from participation, and how the researchers intend to uphold all of the promises made by CESS. This includes but is not limited to the right to withdraw, the ability to request additional information, freedom from coercion, the protection of subject data and who subjects can contact in the event that they believe any of their rights have been violated. Templates for informed consent forms can be found here.
  • Privacy & Confidentiality
    • CESS ensures that all data generated by experiments conducted at any of our centres is consistent with the rules set forth by the Data Protection Acts of 1998 & 2018.
    • The University of Oxford is the primary data controller for all data produced at CESS. Responsible members of the University may access data generated by CESS for monitoring and/or auditing CESS experiments.
    • All information provided upon registering for any CESS Subject pool is completely confidential and is never provided to any third party except if necessary to protect a subject’s rights or welfare, with the subject’s consent, or to the extent required by law.
    • Subjects always have the right to withdraw from a study and/or ask for their data to be removed from any/all studies without providing a reason. This extends to the information they provide when registering to be part of the subject pool. If you would like to have your data removed, please contact cess-lab@nuffield.ox.ac.uk.
      • Note: the removal of subject data from a study is only feasible prior to the data being anonymised as it is impossible to pair individuals with their responses afterwards by design.
    • In the case where researchers need to collect personally identifiable information during the course of their study, they are required to inform subjects prior to their participation and must include a detailed explanation of how they will ensure the protection of subject’s data as well as when subjects can reasonably expect for that information to be destroyed.
      • Appropriate provisions include but are not limited to the encryption of data, the removal and/or creation of codes that remove any direct link of personally identifiable information, and an outline of what protections are put in place to reduce the risk of access to the data by third parties
    • CESS produces and maintains all original data from experiments and does not provide access to it to any third party except to the extent required by law.
      • All original data is anonymized (wherever possible) and stored on a secure server and/or hard drive located at one of CESS’s Centres.
      • CESS provides researchers with fully anonymized copies of the data produced during their experiment.
  • Freedom from Coercion & Protected Populations
    • Researchers are not allowed to coerce subject participation in their research under any circumstance.
      • Researchers are required to compensate subjects for their time but they are not allowed to arbitrarily increase or decrease subject payments to encourage their participation.
      • Researchers cannot offer any form of quid pro quo to subjects. In particular, since many of our subjects are students, subjects are guaranteed that their decision to participate will not have any repercussions on their academic standing.
    • Special attention is given to research involving vulnerable populations that may be at additional risk of being coerced or may be incapable of providing informed consent.
      • Examples of such populations include incarcerated individuals, pregnant women, children, and the mentally handicapped.
      • When necessary, consent can be obtained from a caretaker or parent. However, in these circumstances special care is devoted to ensure that the caregiver is not unduly incentivized to provide consent.
      • In special circumstances (such as field experiments involving indigenous tribes in remote regions), informed consent can be obtained through other means such as oral confirmation.
  • Proper compensation – Subjects must be fairly compensated for their time.
    • Consistent with common practice in social science laboratories, we encourage researchers to use compensation schemes that include guaranteed components as well as variable incentivises whose magnitude potentially depends on a participant’s choices, the choices of others, and/or luck.
    • The rates are appropriately scaled in our other centers to reflect the relative living wage and local taxes. Additional information about payment guidelines can be found here.
  • Deception – Researchers are not allowed to deceive participants in anyway.
    • Examples of deception include actively providing misinformation to subjects, the purposeful omission of relevant information about a study, and intentionally vague instructions.
    • It is up to the independent reviewers to determine if a submission includes any form of deception.