2016 Webinar: New Ethical Challenges in Experimental Political Science

View the webinar recording:


Over the past two decades, political scientists have adopted experimental methods to interact directly with subjects in the United States and globally. This new wave of field experimentation has produced some very public controversies. Researchers have created illegal attack advertisements during political campaigns, exposed subjects to risks of violence through experiments conducted in authoritarian regimes overseas, and even gone so far as to commit crimes to measure police responses. These recent controversies have contributed to distrust among the public and made apparent the need to consider the ethical implications of this experimental work. How can IRBs guide political scientists in conducting ethically sound research while continuing to generate valuable knowledge about the political, economic, and cultural sphere? 

Using case studies from global and domestic research, a political scientist and an ethicist:

  • Explored current landscapes and trends in experimental political science research
  • Described the way in which political scientists perceive the current ethical frameworks and regulations for evaluating political science research
  • Examined the role of the IRB in political science protocols as it relates to:
    • Granting exemptions
    • Assessing new types of risks and benefits
    • Evaluating waivers of informed consent, deception, and debriefing
    • Considering new issues of justice
  • Reviewed concepts of confidentiality and anonymity in the conduct of experiments and reporting of results 
  • Presented an argument for continued ethics education for political scientists and ongoing dialogue between political scientists and IRB professionals

Learning Objectives

After attending this webinar, attendees were able to:

  • Understand the ethical implications of political science experiments and clarify the IRB’s role in addressing these challenges
  • Collaborate and communicate with other stakeholders in the research enterprise, including investigators and bodies outside the IRB, to improve processes and avoid future controversies

Who should attend?

This intermediate-level webinar was of value to IRB chairs, members, and staff; researchers and research staff; compliance personnel; institutional officials; and other members of the political and social science research enterprise.


Scott Desposato

Scott W. Desposato, PhD, is associate professor of Political Science at the University of California, and the editor of Ethics and Experiments; Problems and Solutions for Social Scientists and Policy Professionals. He has held positions at the University of Arizona and the University of Zurich, as well as fellowships at Princeton’s Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, and the Harvard Academy. His general research interests include democratic institutions, campaigning, mass behavior, and political methodology. Specific projects have examined redistricting in the United States, electoral rules and federalism in Brazil, party-switching by politicians, and statistical methods for studying legislatures. Published research has appeared in The American Journal of Political Science, The Journal of Politics, Comparative Political Studies, and Political Analysis. His latest project, for which he received National Science Foundation Funding, examines the ethics of experimental social science.

Trisha Phillips

Trisha Phillips, PhD, is an associate professor and embedded ethicist in the Department of Political Science at West Virginia University (WVU). She has a PhD in Philosophy from Rice University and spent 10 years in the department of philosophy at Mississippi State University before joining the faculty at WVU. She engages in empirical, conceptual, and theoretical research on human subjects research, and research integrity in general, and recently received an NSF grant to explore ethical issues in experimental political science. She has published articles in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy; Bioethics; Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics; and IRB: Ethics and Human Research. She has also given conference presentations at Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, the Association for Bioethics and Humanities; Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress; and PRIM&R. Her current projects include publication ethics, research integrity policy evaluation, and a conceptual analysis of the harms and benefits associated with field experiments in political science.

Certificates of Attendance

Certificates of attendance will be made available at the conclusion of the webinar. To access the certificate, you must first complete the online evaluation. Such certificates are useful for obtaining continuing education (CE) credits (not Continuing Medical Education credits) from professional associations. Note that guidelines concerning CE credits may differ, and you should consult the appropriate professional association representative for further guidance.

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Contact Information

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