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Ethics in Agricultural and Applied Economics Research

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 2:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Hilton Atlanta, 401
Hosted By: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association
  • Chair: Jeffrey Michler, University of Saskatchewan

Beyond the IRB: Towards a typology of research ethics in applied economics

Anna Josephson
University of Arizona


Conversations about ethics often appeal to those responsible for the ethical behavior, encouraging adoption of ``better,'' more ethical conduct. In this paper, we consider an alternative frame: a typology of ethical misconduct, focusing on who are the victims of various types of unethical behavior. The typology is constructed around 1) who may be harmed and 2) by what mechanism an individual or party is harmed. Building a typology helps to identify times in the life cycle of a research idea where differences exist between who is potentially harmed and who the existing ethical norms protect. We discuss ethical practices including IRB approvals, which focuses almost entirely on risks to subjects; pre-analysis plans and conflict of interest disclosures, which encourage transparency so as to not mislead editors, reviewers, and readers; and self-plagiarism, which has become increasing common as authors slice their research ever more thinly, causing congestion in journals at the expense of others.

What Do You Mean by ‘Informed Consent’?” Household Survey Ethics in Development Research

Melinda Smale
Michigan State University


The ethical conduct of research depends on the informed consent of research participants. Across North America, Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) attempt to guarantee that ethical standards are met and that researchers are familiar with the process of obtaining informed consent. However, incongruities exist across regions, particularly in the developing world. In this paper, we consider informed consent, as practiced by agricultural and applied economists. We examine informed consent material on IRB websites of land grant universities in the United States, as well as at the centers of the CGIAR. We also undertake a survey of researchers at universities to evaluate actual practice of informed consent practices. IRB regulations are clear but heterogeneous, with some universities and CGIAR centers without any ethical review process. Standards often emphasize process, rather than outcome. The lack of IRBs in some contexts and the particulars of the principles employed may fail to protect research participants.

Ethics in Econometrics

Travis Lybbert
University of California-Davis


Recent scandals in the economics and applied economics profession have shed renewed light on ethical dilemmas that frequently emerge while conducting empirical work. Concerns about abuses of statistical inference in applied economics have spanned generations of economists - and ethical concerns in economics more broadly are nearly a century old. I reflect on these perspectives and proposed solutions as both a practitioner and an editor. Among potential remedies, pre-analysis plans can play an important role and not just when running a randomized controlled trial. Among other benefits, a well-crafted pre-analysis plan systematizes the empirical analysis and explicitly distinguishes confirmatory from exploratory analysis. Having such a plan in place prior to data collection and analysis changes the writing process. More fundamentally, we must recognize the importance of our shared professional norms and (mostly unwritten) codes of econometric conduct and make contributions to this public good. Kennedy's famous "sinning in the basement" metaphor suggests that econometric misdeeds are conducted in private, but norms and incentives emerge and are reinforced in complex and distinctly social ways - including those on display in the peer-review process. To conclude, I explore various editorial efforts and initiatives to nudge these norms in a more ethical direction, including “results-blind” reviewing policies recently adopted by journals in economics and political science and an increased willingness on the part of journal editors to publish null findings.

A Discussion of Ethical Issues Pertaining to Media Relations for Agricultural Economists

Craig Gundersen
University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign


Agricultural economists have a profound influence on the decisions made by policymakers and program administrators. Some of this influence is derived from direct interactions among these groups but, in recent years, there is an increased influence mediated through statements made via media outlets. This is due, in part, to the efforts of the AAEA and heightened emphasis in land-grant institutions on outreach. In this paper, I consider various perspectives on the ethical obligations one has to those effected by our statements in the media, namely, policymakers and program administrators, the general public, our fellow researchers (including those who take opposite positions), and, of most importance, those directly affected by the subsequent policies that are pursued.
JEL Classifications
  • Y9 - Other