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BITSS Catalysts Inspired to Publish on Research Ethics


Forking forest path | Jens Lelie via Unsplash

The authors, Anna Josephson and Jeffrey Michler, credit BITSS textbook Transparent and Reproducible Social Science Research for launching their research ethics journey.


Acknowledging the surplus of data collected and analyzed by economists and social sciences researchers and the speed at which results are disseminated, Anna Josephson and Jeffrey Michler, Agricultural and Resource Economics professors at the University of Arizona, have a forthcoming book that identifies and offers solutions to the ethical issues that often arise throughout the research pipeline.

Research Ethics in Applied Economics: A Practical Guide discusses many of the ethical challenges researchers face, including: pre-analysis plans; best practices in data collection, privacy, and management; political incentives; and discussions about self-plagiarism and self-promotion. Josephson and Michler provide guidance for navigating these ethical issues in quantitative social science research for students and experienced researchers and practitioners alike.

Josephson and Michler accelerated their research transparency and ethics journey after reading Transparent and Reproducible Social Science Research, by CEGA Faculty Director Edward Miguel, former BITSS Project Scientist Garrett Christensen, and Jeremy Freese. The book provides a comprehensive look at the challenges of false positives and non-reproducible findings in social science research and outlines several new approaches to help scholars address them. This work is at the core of the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS), an organization founded by Miguel in 2012.

Observing the abundance of non-replicable research and the myriad other ethical concerns around research that go undiscussed in standard social science curricula, Josephson and Michler were motivated to dive further into the ethics discipline. In 2018, they published “Beasts in the field? Ethics in agricultural and applied economics,” which looked at the history and practice of ethics in the profession. Since then, their work on research ethics has expanded, with a focus on increasing accessibility to tools for conducting ethical research in social science.

Inspired by Miguel, Christensen, and Freese’s work, and the efforts of many in BITSS, Josephson and Michler became BITSS Catalysts. Catalysts are social scientists who are committed to changing norms by educating the current and next generation of social scientists on transparency tools and practices. Since becoming Catalysts, the two have championed transparency in their work, training their own students to value transparent and reproducible research, and ethics throughout the research production process.

With the book out in October, Josephson and Michler are starting to think about what comes next. As Josephson says, “even when we’re ostensibly talking about something else, we’re still really talking about ethics.”

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